123,205,750. The average number of words spoken by an average person over an average lifetime. In Sam Steiner’s play, which is anything but average, the government has limited the daily number of words per person to 140. It’s an intriguing concept, a device that allows us to see human relationships in new light. Steiner isn’t really concerned with the political implications of such an act, but with the human ones. By experiencing the dystopia through the experience of a young couple, we ask ourselves about the nature of communication in our own lives and how, often, we evade the things that really need to be said.
It’s unsurprising that Lemons was the big winner at this year’s NSDF.
Bernadette (Beth Holmes) and Oliver (Euan Kitson) meet in a pet cemetery. She is a lawyer; he is a musician. They fall for each other, their differences pulling them together and pushing them apart. The time frame constantly skips between their conversations in the word-limited present and the past, when they were free to say as much as they wanted. We see that they say no less to each other under the new “hush law” – they use fewer words but the meaningful content of their communication is identical.
Holmes and Kitson compliment each other well: she is sparky and ambitious; he is passionate but insecure. Together they are the perfect couple and their chemistry is delightful to see grow and devastating to see crumble. Ed Franklin directs with class and intelligence, ensuring that the couple never really see eye to eye, always drifting farther or nearer but never directly touching nerves.
Steiner’s exclusive focus on the human consequences is admirable but it does come at the expense of context. We don’t get any sense of how or why the act came into being and, as a result, Lemons feels like a great concept and nothing much more. By the end everything starts to get stretched thin, although seeing Holmes and Kitson trying desperately to adapt to new forms of language is never dull.
It’s unsurprising that Lemons was the big winner at this year’s NSDF. On display here are theatre’s youngest stars and brightest hopes.