Aidan Turner and Jenna Coleman to star in drama about a word-rationed world
Jenna Coleman and Aidan Turner are to star together in a play that imagines a world where people are restricted to a daily limit of 140 words each.
Sam Steiner’s 2015 drama Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons will be revived by Josie Rourke at the Harold Pinter theatre in London in January before playing at Manchester Opera House and Theatre Royal Brighton.
A two-hander, the play shows the impact on one couple of a “hush law” imposed by the government. “As sheer theatre, the central idea is a dazzler,” said Rourke. “Here is a world in which you’re restricted to 140 words a day. You see these two characters before and after that word count restriction is in place. Are they a better or stronger couple with more words?”
In the most straightforward sense, it’s a play in which “two people meet, fall in love, mature together, grow apart and battle to stay as a unit,” she continued. “Like any great relationship drama there is the breathless jeopardy of will they/won’t they? That’s exciting and particularly dynamic when they’re doing that within this word limit. It’s thrilling in this play because Sam Steiner plays with this big idea and with time.”
Coleman and Turner are “both brilliant at making complex things clear and moving” said Rourke. Steiner praised the pair for combining “magnetic charisma with a real humanity and nuance”. Coleman played the Doctor’s companion Clara in Doctor Who and starred in both The Serpent and The Sandman on television; she appeared on stage in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Old Vic in 2019. Turner, best known for playing the title role of the BBC’s Poldark, starred earlier this year as a psychologist in ITV’s The Suspect; he appeared in a 2018 West End production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
Steiner, who in later plays imagined Kanye West’s reincarnation as a middle-class Brit and built a story around a game of table tennis, described Lemons as “a romcom about communication on both a personal and political scale”. He added: “I think the play’s central exploration of the way we derive meaning from language, its capacity to both liberate and limit us, to connect us and keep us apart, has only grown more resonant in the years since it was written.”
The impact of such a “hush law” on daily life and “the restriction that places on discussing the big stuff” makes the play “profoundly funny, dangerous and moving” said Rourke. “We are in a moment where – however indirectly – theatre needs to help us to digest how we lived and changed through the extremes of the past few years. Sam’s play allows us to find the humanity in how people and couples work through extreme situations. There is the potential for great joy, fun, reflection and healing in that.”
Steiner’s play premiered at Warwick Arts Centre in 2015 and was lauded at the National student drama festival before having three runs at the Edinburgh fringe. “The play was written to be performed in tiny rooms for friends of friends without set, props, lighting or sound design – a practical necessity that we wrestled into an aesthetic choice,” said Steiner. “So the idea of revisiting the play in this context with such an alarmingly inspiring creative team feels like a dizzying, ridiculous and deeply thrilling creative challenge.”
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is at the Harold Pinter theatre, London, from 18 January to 18 March. It then runs at Manchester Opera House (21-25 March) and Theatre Royal Brighton (28 March-1 April).