Regent Theatre Clarkson Studio, Dunedin

16/11/2019 - 23/11/2019

Production Details


Arcade Theatre Company is thrilled to present the fourth and final production of 2019:  Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons by young Mancunian playwright Sam Steiner.

Lemons… follows Oliver and Bernadette, a young British couple who are forced to navigate a sudden law change which limits the number of words a citizen can speak each day.

“The average person will speak 123,205,750 words in a lifetime. But what if there were a limit? Oliver and Bernadette are about to find out. It’s about what we say and how we say it; about the things we can only hear in the silence; about dead cats, activism, eye contact and lemons, lemons, lemons, lemons, lemons.”

A break out hit at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Arcade is proud to restage this show, that asks us to contemplate, in a world where there are a multitude of ways we can communicate, which words are the ones that mean the most.

The show also touches on the strain put on personal relationships during large societal and governmental changes, which is timely in relation to the current political era.

The final production for 2019 is presented with live musical accompaniment by Dunedin musicians Olive Butler and Adelaide Dunn and be held at the Regent Theatre’s new Clarkson Studio. It will be the first local theatrical venture in the space.

The partnership between Arcade and the Regent has been long in the works and both parties are excited to see this partnership come to fruition. “Having the opportunity to work with Dunedin’s major professional venue is certainly a game changer for Arcade” said company general manager Kate Schrader. “Since the loss of the Fortune Theatre there has been a big gap in the landscape of Dunedin venues”. Dunedin lost it’s long standing professional theatre in early 2018.

The production is supported in part by a recent Dunedin City Council’s City Service Grant, which the Regent Theatre successfully secured to enable local companies to access the new studio and continue to present theatre in the city, which has been compromised in the wake of the Fortune Theatre closure in 2018. Part of the criteria to access the fund is that a presenting company will have one free performance available in their season. As a result, Arcade will have a free performance in a bid to make theatre accessible to all, and build our local audiences for future seasons.

Lemons… wraps Arcade Theatre Company’s second year in business. Artistic director Alex Wilson said that he was thrilled with the result of the season and that there is still a strong appetite for locally produced theatre in Dunedin. “We’ve felt strong support from the Dunedin community in 2019. This is especially encouraging given the eclectic range of productions we’ve staged this year.” he said.

From the hilarious and poignant glimpse at the challenges women face in the entertainment industry (HarleQueen), to Ionesco’s classic absurdist farce (The Bald Soprano) and a tale of the trials and tribulations of sisterhood (Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything), and now Lemons it has been an eclectic year for the Company.

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons opens on the 16th of November for a run of seven performances.
Clarkson Studio, The Regent Theatre, 17 The Octagon, Dunedin  
16 – 23 November 2019
16-17 November at 7pm
20-22 November at 7pm
23 November at 2pm
$20 General Admission,
$15 Concession (Students, Unwaged, Gold Card etc)

● First theatre production in new space at Regent Theatre
● Presented with support from DCC City Service’s Grant 

Oliver played by Alex Martyn
Bernadette played by Sophie Graham

Olive Butler
Adelaide Dunn

Creative and Crew:
Director: Alex Wilson
Producer: Kate Schrader
Stage Manager: Amy Wright
Set Design: Simon Anderson
Costume Design: Ross Heath
Lighting Design: Cain Sleep

Theatre ,

1 hr 20 min

Performance skills raise the somewhat questionable script

Review by Alison Embleton 20th Nov 2019

Bernadette (Sophie Graham) and Oliver (Alex Martyn) meet in a pet cemetery. What follows is more-or-less the standard romantic comedy style deconstruction of a relationship. A relationship that we’ve all seen deconstructed many times over in every form of media imaginable. Where Lemons does differ is in its setting: we are given a rather mysterious political backdrop focused on a (frankly ridiculous and) draconian law restricting word usage to 140 words per person/per day.

We’re not given much explanation as to why this is happening, other than some fiery anti-establishment rhetoric from Oliver about how it’s just another way for the rich to oppress the lower classes. It’s an interesting enough take on the classic boy-meets-girl romantic comedy trope, and the chemistry of Graham and Martyn is certainly compelling to watch, but the script suffers from a bizarre combination of under-explaining context and over-utilising (and thus degrading) its more clever insights.

The inclusion of live music and sound-effects is one of the highlights in this production of Lemons. It enriches the performances of Graham and Martyn and emphasises the intimacy that director Alex Wilson has created for the audience. The musicians are off-set from the performance space which, while likely a practical option, seems like a lost opportunity for Wilson to incorporate them and build on the delightfully fluid partnership between the actors and musicians. The type of fluidity that is usually the result of hard work and a sharp directorial eye.

Wilson’s choice to have a simple set is a smart one. Blacklight-painted white drop cloths covering the sparse pieces of furniture serve multiple functions each: the couch turns into a car, the bed doubles as a wall etc. It’s all very understated and allows the focus to be on the performers, there are also some very deft lighting choices – the ‘sunlight’ cast over the bed is especially effective.

Lemons often feels like the story of a relationship told through the lens of party games: Articulate, karaoke, charades …The inclusion of several rounds of the game Articulate (or some approximation thereof) hits the mark beautifully as it’s such a concise and telling way of demonstrating the shorthand language people in any kind of close relationship use with one another. Unfortunately, a lot of this clever groundwork is undone by the repetitive reminders from Bernadette that this is how couples communicate: in a code of sorts.

The non-linear narrative keeps the audience on their toes; we’re mostly expected to be able to keep up and figure out the timeline ourselves which is delightfully refreshing.

Throughout the performance, and in the following hours as I chew over my thoughts and write up this review, I cannot shake the question: what is Lemons (x 5) actually trying to say? The arguments we have are often not really about the topic they appear to be about on the surface. They’re frequently the culmination of small (or large) grievances that eventually cannot be bottled any longer and are set loose under an assumed identity.

This is a common thread throughout Lemons: Bernadette and Oliver argue frequently. They fight with passion and both spar with a force of wit and determination. However, these fights and the surrounding drama often feel too contrived to be especially compelling. Some of the major issues set up as ‘reveals’ later (the brick through the window incident in particular) are too obvious, and too quickly dismissed by the characters themselves to really serve much purpose at all. Not to mention that many of the communication issues could actually be resolved by employing the magic of writing, which is a skill one can safely assume both characters (a lawyer and a musician/activist) possess.

All this being said: under Wilson’s astute direction, Graham and Martyn certainly do some magnificent work. Their combined skill does a lot to raise the somewhat questionable script and convinces me to be forgiving of some of the more contrived moments. There is a comfortable and genuine-seeming rhythm between the two throughout the performance and they utilise the space exceptionally well. Likewise, their accents are definitely on-point!

Steiner’s script seems to be calling us to examine both how and why we communicate, and to examine the society we live in and how easily it can become an Orwellian nightmare in the blink of an eye. Ironically, I’m not so sure it’s really articulating any of these messages that well. Would this script, and all subsequent productions of it, perhaps be better kept as the thought exercise that I suspect it began as?


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Edgy play provides food for thought

Review by Barbara Frame 20th Nov 2019

Many of us would like a little more peace and quiet in our lives, but what do you do when the government passes a law restricting each person’s oral output to 140 words a day?  

While Bernadette thinks people will just have to find ways to adapt, Oliver’s disgust and fury lead him into a noisy, confrontational protest movement.

The play’s many short scenes are not arranged chronologically, but it’s easy to work out which come before the passing of the hush law and which follow it. Before, an idea can be exhaustively discussed or analysed; after, concision leads to banality and incomprehension.

More than anything, this is a love story. Bernadette and Oliver want to share their lives and thoughts to the fullest extent, and they experiment with strategies like increased eye contact, word hoarding, abbreviations and Morse code, but their word obsessions are often counter-productive and it becomes clear that rationed communication restricts just about everything that makes us human. The plays’s dual themes of interpersonal relations and the political implications of government-imposed limitations on how much can be said (and the consequences for free speech and debate) don’t always intersect tidily, but both give the audience much to think about.

The parts of Bernadette and Oliver are tremendously demanding, and Sophie Graham and Alex Martyn perform flawlessly, intelligently and altogether admirably. Live music performed on-stage by Olive Butler and Adelaide Dunn sensitively complements the text. Simon Anderson’s almost monochromatic set and Cain Sleep’s lighting work with the Clarkson Studio’s blackness to enhance to play’s modern, edgy feel.

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, by English playwright Sam Steiner, is directed by Alex Wilson and adds to Arcade Theatre’s growing reputation for professional-quality, innovative theatre. Saturday night’s performance was sold out, so booking is advisable. 


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