Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Speaking on stage.
Limited dialogue for both.
This intelligently written two-hander explores the limitations of communication, and what happens in relationships when we don’t really say what we mean to one another. So far, so fringe, you may think, but there are other factors at play here in a series of scenes that flit backward and forward in time while teasingly eking out new and initially confusing information. Many scenes are interspersed with moments in which both actors are barking out numbers at each other in what initially seems a random manner – sort of like a Orwellian take on NumberWang.
Through a series of uncomplicated scenes, we are led to understand that citizens are about to have restrictions placed on their free speech – literally. There’s something called a ‘Hush Law’ being pushed through government which will mean that people can speak 140 words only per day, meaning that everyone will really have to choose their words carefully. Up and coming lawyer Bernadette (Beth Holmes) agrees that it’s a bad law – so bad, in fact, that she does not believe that it will actually get through – but equally, she won’t accept that it’s unfair: the restrictions apply to everybody, she says, no matter what their status or wage. Idealist protester boyfriend Oliver (Euan Kitson) points out that if you live in a nice house wearing nice clothes, you hardly need any words to argue against the system in the first place. It’s easy to imagine that this couple are the ‘other’ people in 1984, the real citizens scurrying past Winston Smith and Julia.
The logistics of the vocal limitations are not explained, and do not to be, and it’s worth pointing out that the delivery is not nearly as laboured or as forced as you might be afraid. Appropriately enough, a lot of Sam Steiner’s script is actually quite sparse and economical, even when – as in the earlier scenes – the couple make the most of being allowed to say what they want, when they want. Both performances are engaging and believable, from shy flirting to testy disagreements.
There are a couple of very smart sequences that play with the self-imposed rules that writer Steiner has placed on himself. Occasionally, the time of day is vitally important to the conversations the couple has, and there are lovely sequences in which we learn that what has seemed to be selfishness is quite the opposite. They have arguments, and it’s clear that at various times each sees themselves as the ‘good guy’. The writing, performances and direction are all smart enough to show that both / neither of them are at fault: they just need to shut up, occasionally.
It’s not difficult to see LLLLL as a vicious satire on the kind of person who chooses not to vote – to note vote – and therefore in this year, the piece seems particularly relevant. In a play that is all about communication, dialogue and words, it’s genuinely impressive how rarely the script ‘shows off’, and is genuinely compelling, believable and true.