Jenna Coleman and Aidan Turner star in this sharp, warm and thought-provoking play.
How would you feel if the number words that you can speak per day were limited? That is a question that lies at the very centre of this immensely though-provoking play by Sam Steiner that feels really quite pertinent during these turbulent times in which the government are trying to come up with a solution to the ongoing strikes.
Flitting between the past and the present, this two-hander is centred on the relationship between Oliver and Bernadette, taking us through their relationship before and after a new law is passed by the government (though it is never explained why – which makes the play feel as though it leaves more questions than answers) to limit the number of words per person that they can speak to 140 words. While on the surface it appears to be a love story and we see how effectively the couple are able to communicate as things change, but on a deeper level it makes the audience re-evaluate just how we use words and what they communicate and the powerful way in which they can be used.
Directed by Josie Rourke, the production is immensely sharp and very much relies on as much as the physicality and mannerisms of Coleman and Turner – particularly when the new law comes into place and you can really sense the way in which the characters change throughout the 85 minutes. There is no doubting that it is compelling to watch – even if the changes in which point we join the couple in their relationship can be slightly dizzying at times, particularly during the middle section of the play. But it should be noted that the way in which these changes in times is effectively done, thanks to the innovative lighting design by Aideen Malone, which is cleverly incorporated into the homely but never intrusive set design by Robert Jones .
Sam Steiner’s script is filled with gentle and charming humour, but as the play unfolds it really develops into something much deeper and intriguing to watch unfold. This certainly emerges after this new ‘hush law’ as it is nicknamed comes into force and you see both Oliver and Bernadette’s different views on society and political opinions coming to the forefront. Musician Oliver becomes increasingly passionate about doing something about the law, while lawyer Bernadette seems to be a little more cautious about anything changing.
The whole set up is very clever and while it does take a little bit of time to adjust to the structure of the play, it draws you in subtly – and for myself it made me wonder how I could think about more the words that I use and the way in which I use them. For me, one particular stand out section is when each character says things like ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry but with different tones that give them different meanings. It captures just how fluent language can be and how we should all perhaps think about what we say and how we say it more often.
In no way in this production does it feel heavy handed, thanks to Rourke’s delicate direction, it allows the audience to interpret the characters and the words they use with flexibility.
At the centre of it all, Aidan Turner and Jenna Coleman are perfectly matched. The level of detail that they have both paid to their characters is incredible and you really can really see how the characters and their relationship deepens and changes – making it all feel very natural and by the end very bittersweet to consider how the one decision they didn’t make has a massive impact on their individual lives.
Overall, there is much to be admired in this warm and enjoyable production of a play that deserves to be seen (as it will be as it is visiting the Manchester Opera House and Theatre Royal Brighton) to a wider audience.
By Emma Clarendon
To book tickets for the London run until the 18th March click here.