What would you say if you only had 5 minutes left before your words were no longer limitless? What would you do if you could only say 140 words a day? Is there more power in the unspoken then we realise? These are all questions that Sightline Production’s adaptation of Sam Steiner’s Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons left me curiously wondering at. The director Honor Douglas, and actors Kit Redding and Eliana Franks, worked masterfully together to create a dynamic, hilarious and sincerely thought-provoking piece of theatre, exploring the importance of words in a series of episodes and flashbacks of the ordinary lives of two people. The non-linear timeline meant the audience were constantly piecing the different stories and aspects of the characters’ lives together, much like how the characters were forced to connect the dots between the words that were said and couldn’t be spoken between them.
The setting of Cafedral created a homely and cosy atmosphere which perfectly suited the intimate style of the play. The half-eaten bowls of baked beans on the floor, the ketchup and mayo bottles and the board game ‘Articulate’ on the coffee table highlighted the distinct ordinariness of the characters. I liked how as the audience filed in, the actors were already on stage, listening to music or reading a book, as it was as if the audience casually became voyeurs in their private daily lives. This domestic setting made what could be seen as an understandably ridiculous concept seem all too possible, creating a subtly unnerving aspect to the play that contributed to its all-round success, as I found myself genuinely considering ‘what if this were to happen to us?’.
Redding and Franks worked in perfect harmony to present an authentic, relatable and loveable relationship to the audience. Knowing exactly when to cue-bite and when to pause, the pair expertly delivered a pacey, hard-hitting performance, that led me to genuinely sympathise with their inability to communicate freely during their episodes of limited speech. The intermittent flashbacks to when they first met, and their past linguistic liberty effectively highlighted their restricted and broken communication when they had to count their remaining words. Something I found particularly poignant, were the characters’ repetitions of the phrase, ‘can we talk about it later?’, as the audience were already aware that later, under the new ‘hush law’, talking at all becomes an uncertainty. What made this production so refreshing and dynamic, was the light-hearted, ironically ‘chatty’ aspect of the play. I found Bernadette’s use of the metaphor of a cheese grater to explain the quirks of different relationships, particularly funny, which was much to the credit of Frank’s endearing silliness when describing her thought process.
The deliberate focus on the lack of words meant the director, actors and audience had to pay close attention to physical theatre and what can be communicated through the unspoken. The actors’ physicality became crucial within their relationship and in translating their feelings to one another and the audience. This was achieved through the actors frequently changing position on stage between episodes, each ending with a freeze frame, to mark the end of the moment. This provided the play with a constant energy and their shifting proxemics successfully reflected the characters’ growing distance and moments of hostility. Such variation was made possible through the intricacy of the set, with the two sofas further upstage and coffee tables downstage allowing for multiple different positions.
This dystopian world, in which words are rationed and the silence becomes deafening, takes on a new-found significance when it is seen on stage. Not only did this performance encourage me to think more broadly about the importance of communication in maintaining relationships and even one’s own identity, but also invited me to consider whether we, as audience members, often focus too much on the words being said on stage than what can be revealed through the unspoken. This play was truly brilliant; it was absurd, honest, and challenging and has left me genuinely wondering at just what ‘things you can’t say in 140 words’.
Featured Image: Credit to Honor Douglas, with permission.