Life & Culture

Theatre review: Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons - 'What if words were limited?'

Starry cast of Poldark's Aiden Turner and Jenna Coleman fail to rescue Sam Steiner’s unconvincing romcom


Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons by Sam Steiner, , Director - Josie Rourke, Designer - Robert Jones, Lighting - Aideen Malone, Harlod Pinter Theatre, London, 2023, Credit: Johan Persson/

Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons.
Harold Pinter Theatre| ★★✩✩✩

Sam Steiner’s tricksy romcom has a following since it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. In structure and style comparisons have been made with Pinter and Caryl Churchill because of the way dialogue is snipped to the fewest amount of words a sentence can carry without losing its meaning.

Yet now that the play has been cast with stars and given a West End stage a deficit of dramatic heft is fatally exposed.

Musician Oliver and lawyer Bernadette, wittily played by Aidan Turner (of Poldark fame) and Jenna Coleman (Dr Who) are in a relationship with scenes scattered throughout Steiner’s script like a spilt packet of M&Ms.

Set against a projected backdrop of towering shelves containing such household objects as desk lamps and car wheels, the couple are seen throughout Josie Rourke’s 90-minute production at various, seemingly random, stages of their lives together.

In one we are dropped mid-stream into a conversation in which Bernadette is worrying that the language of past relationships will sully the discourse in her new one with Oliver.

The next moment we are with them at their first meeting in a pet cemetery. Then we are off again as Oliver is preparing to protest against the new Quietude Law which requires people to limit the number of words they vocally use in a day to 140. Quite why is never dwelled upon.

Language as a limited form of expression is the theme here. The idea, clearly sparked by Twitter’s 140-character limit, is expanded to conversations held in person.

But there is no explicit threat about what happens to people if they transcend the limit, which means that as the new form of language is explored, sometimes to comic effect, tension bleeds from the evening like a leaky bucket.

The result is a show whose high concept is never matched by the drama it generates.

Nor is the structure rooted in a rationality in the way it is with, say, Nick Payne’s two-hander Constellations in which the seemingly random editing of the plot is revealed to be a function of string theory, the play’s subject.

There, repetition is used to illustrate the idea of the multiverse. Here no such explanation is offered.

Still, for the actors the play is a steep challenge which Turner and Coleman rise to with skill, grace and charm.

And the way in which Bernadette’s scepticism about Oliver’s cause is shown to be rooted in her working-class past makes for a convincing fault line in the relationship. Of course, Oliver can afford the luxury of protest. He was born in a castle.

Fleetingly, the play feels tuned into current politics, what with the current government’s controversial public order laws.

Freedom is at stake, says Oliver convincingly. But he and his girlfriend feel less like people whose fate matters than characters who exist to convey a writer’s big idea.

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