Dir. Phoebe Elliott, The Old Hairdressers, 16th–17th May
Imagine that, for some inexplicable reason, you’re only allowed to speak 140 words a day. All the thousands of words you use to express yourself every day: gone. Every word you speak, every emotion you feel – whether at your workplace, at uni, with family and friends, or when performing such mundanely simple tasks as ordering a coffee – has to be condensed, pored over, planned out in advance.
That’s the premise behind STaG’s (Student Theatre at Glasgow) latest offering ‘Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons’, which showcases a struggling couple before and after the imposition of a restrictive law that curtails an entire population’s ability to speak.
Before the law – which is never given a name – Oliver and Bernadette are a normal couple. Their interactions on stage are dynamic, vibrant, full of energy; they constantly talk and challenge each other. But then the law becomes a reality, and everything changes. They shorten phrases into one word – ‘loveoo’ instead of ‘I love you’ – and try, often unsuccessfully, to reduce their varied experiences into a series of clipped, short exchanges that inevitably frustrates.
The idea behind ‘Lemons’, although fairly simple in itself, is arguably a complex one to explore in the medium of theatre. The dystopian twist is fascinating, and provokes almost as many questions as it answers: how is the law implemented? Is there some sort of mechanism to stop people from going over their word limit? And exactly why was this law even considered in the first place? These are all questions that I can’t help but feel would have enhanced the world of ‘Lemons’, although the classist, anti-establishment theme that runs through the play is certainly an intriguing take.
But, despite its occasionally predictable staging and narrow approach to the wider questions of dystopia, there’s no denying that ‘Lemons’ is a play that immediately draws the audience in. Absorbing, solemn and also unexpectedly funny, it’s a bold and often thoughtful look at what might happen to a normal couple when the world suddenly turns to shit. Enjoyable and educational all in one: what more could you want?