Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons review: Jenna Coleman can’t make lemonade from this
Review and star rating: ★★★☆☆
You’ve got 140 words a day to communicate with, the same as the number of characters in a tweet. How about that? This is the premise for Lemons Lemons Lemons, a show as abstract and provocative as its title suggests – but its contents can’t quite make lemonade.
It’s a shame, as there’s nothing wrong with its star leads, Poldark’s Aidan Turner and The Serpent’s Jenna Coleman, who have brilliant chemistry. She plays a divorce lawyer and he a protestor and musician, and both are restricted by the government to 140 words of speech per day. But the show’s intellectual premise ends up tying itself in knots.
The basic issue is that the format is hard to extract drama from. Writer Sam Steiner’s concept of the duo delivering broken language and jumping, staccato, from scenes and time zones means there are swathes of the play where it becomes hard to engage. The stylishly minimal production means the set – though beautiful – feels like a hindrance rather than a help.
There are some intriguing scenes where the warring couple move animalistically, the language of communication exchanged for physicality when their words run out. Director Josie Rourke has fun with this, getting at how exasperating that must be. But often the direction is over-embellished for a play whose major embellishment should be the intellectual wordplay. Turner particularly traverses from one scene or time zone to the next with over-the-top swooshes of his head, which feel hammy paired with a dramatic electronic soundtrack.
A more naturalistic set up may have given the intellectual concept space to soar, because there is huge potential. When Coleman’s exasperated Bernadette is forced to call Turner’s Oliver “boring” because she’s run out of words and most only use one, it’s a damning critique on how English politeness means we rarely say how we feel. And there are some gorgeous lines. “You make my world feel bigger, but sometimes I feel smaller in it,” says Bernadette plainly, with Coleman’s delivery suggesting she can’t yet contemplate the gravity of what she’s said.
Their toxicity rings from the stage, and their love does too. At its best Lemons delivers a powerful testament about the contradictions of modern love, where openness and honesty doesn’t necessarily lead us to communal strength. But this production doesn’t have enough evocative moments to keep us with the characters.
Lemons Lemons Lemons runs at the Howard Pinter Theatre until 18 March
Read more from City A.M. Culture