123 million words is the average amount a person says in a lifetime. However, this number is threatened in the dystopian world of Lemons. With the advent of the ‘hush law’ speech is restricted to a limit of 140 per day, which is incidentally the same as Twitter’s character limit.
Oliver (Euan Kitson) and Bernadette (Beth Holmes) bond in a rather unusual location – a pet cemetery – over the death of a cat called Dennis (“A cat full of joy. If he could talk he would sing”). Oliver is a gauche, politically-charged musician. Bernadette is a lawyer, less of a revolutionary, but still similar in many ways to Oliver. There is an awkward compatibility. With balletic motions they shift through the past and the present, pre- and post- ‘hush law’.
The use of “I love you” is explored in its various contexts, moving from its first heartfelt utterance to the more mundane usages. It becomes “I’m sorry, I love you” and “I’ve got to go, can we talk about this later? I love you.” The passage of time is examined vividly and at speed.
The contraction and dilation of the narrative means we often arrive at important stages unexpectedly and without context. Post-law Oliver and Bernadette announce their remaining amount of words before properly speaking. These numbers are invisible chains. The normal excesses of speech are lost in their fraught exchanges: happy exuberance is eradicated. There is no “literally”, “like”, or “basically”. Morse code, abbreviation and even communication through eyes is considered, often with humour, but also in a way that reinforces the importance of free speech. The precious quality of words is painfully realised.
Oliver’s main problem is his insecurity. He is tested by his revolutionary response, and he nervously recalls throwing a brick through a window at a rally. His insecurity means that he often looks to Bernadette for support, but this tests the strength of the relationship. He develops a condescending attitude to her work as a lawyer. Their occupational differences result in clashes: artistic expression versus concise legality.
The ‘hush law’ often consumes the conversation. Bernadette is less involved in the political activism, though is an advocate of preventing the law passing. Perhaps the situation is not so far removed from real-world events. The reaction to the ‘hush law’ resembles Britain and the feeling of disillusionment in the younger generations following the EU referendum – both are incredibly close in votes. Not only with regards to the referendum is Lemons relevant, but also in transatlantic politics. The success of a brutally conservative presidential candidate is another instance of divisive politics, which is what Lemons is all about. This play has says a lot about the modern world. It is a well-crafted rom-com with a poignant political aspect.