Do you say ‘I love you’ too much? Overuse qualifiers, such as really? Or maybe you say ‘like’ all the time when you’re nervous. Just like Oliver and Bernadette we are free to babble, say the wrong word, slip up and start again – until the future government they live under passes the so-called ‘hush law’, which prohibits everyone from using any more than 140 words per day, incidentally the same number of characters allowed in a single tweet.
The play consists of three key elements: a deconstruction of the way we use language, the relationship of Oliver and Bernadette and a fleeting look at the political landscape of the UK. What is not ever made clear however, is why the government has decided to limit people’s use of language in this way. Is it a method of controlling people? Or perhaps a comment on law-making in the UK? I’m not sure. But the fact that it is never properly addressed leaves a hole in the middle of the political element of the play. Interestingly, towards the end Parliament becomes a sort of ‘word sanctuary’ as the word limit is not enforced there. So the political elite starts to move in with their families, making the word limit irrelevant to them. A sharp comment on the nature of free speech and the growing distance between the political class and the general public; however, I would have liked to see this topic explored a bit deeper and given the focus it deserves.
If language was restricted we could use morse code or something, right? Or we’d be able to communicate with our close ones in that special way that we do, they’d know what our facial expressions and reactions mean, won’t they? Playwright Sam Steiner cleverly shows the distance that grows between a couple with the absence of language, and therefore the importance of language. The script shows a love of language, which is highlighted when Bernadette uses her word count up on words that are a joy to say but which she hasn’t said much since the law was passed – words such as octopus and lemons lemons lemons. The strongest love story in the play is the love of language.
The relationship between Oliver and Bernadette, whilst well drawn, offers nothing new. It feels like old ground and whilst it would have been fine as a backstory, it doesn’t deserve the prominence it is given in this script. I was far more interested in the ideas about political engagement and the exploration of the way we use and rely on language than I was about whether Oliver had cheated on Bernadette or not. Beth Holmes and Euan Kitson have great chemistry and are safe in the hands of director Ed Madden, with a beautifully natural portrayal of a relationship on the rocks. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is an intriguing and thoughtfully written play by a writer who shows real promise.