A story in which a new “hush law” limits every person to 140 spoken words a day is a good idea for a dance adaptation: who would thrive in those circumstances except expert physical communicators? Although in Sam Steiner’s 2015 play Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (here renamed The Limit), nobody thrives under such draconian control. Certainly not the couple in this two-hander, played by Royal Ballet principals Alexander Campbell (whose idea this show was) and Francesca Hayward. Surprisingly, they don’t replace script with dance but act the whole play – remarkably well considering they’re not trained actors – and move at the same time. Hayward is the Royal’s most natural and luminous dance-actress, and her inner light turns out to be a transferable skill. She has clarity, and Campbell easy confidence (although he rushes his words occasionally), and the pair of them are believable. The stilted nature of the text makes the whole thing stylised anyway. And just on the practical level of delivering words and movement at the same time, they’re impressive.
The play’s original director, Ed Madden, is on board for this production, with the Royal Ballet’s Kristen McNally creating the moves. It’s fascinating how you approach a fusion of forms like this. They’re not acting out the play in gestures, nor would I say they’re adding different meaning with movement. The dance feels faithful to the text, without ever corresponding word for word. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music, played live, underlines this without being too pushy. Like the characters, the choreography isn’t voluble; it’s careful, sometimes distant. Yet they echo each other’s phrases in affirmation and they’ve quietly got each other’s backs (and legs, heads, arms, and all the other dancing parts).
The play is partly an allegory for the rise of authoritarian governments, censorship, curbs on protest etc, but it’s more convincing as a portrait of a relationship, showing how communication shifts over time: the confessions, the connections, the arguments, and especially the avoidance. There’s more to say about the interesting choices the creators have made, but even without a hush law, a critic has a word count.