fri 19/07/2024

The Limit, Linbury Theatre review - a dance-theatre romcom that lacks both rom and com | reviews, news & interviews

The Limit, Linbury Theatre review - a dance-theatre romcom that lacks both rom and com

The Limit, Linbury Theatre review - a dance-theatre romcom that lacks both rom and com

An attempt to amplify a playscript with dance suggests the play should be left to speak for itself

Running on empty: Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in 'The Limit'photo: Camilla Greenwell

Imagine a world in which speech has a daily legal limit. Not a limit on what you say, but how many words it takes to say it. Now imagine how such a scenario might work as dance.

Adaptations are so common on the theatre stage that the change of state often barely registers: films into plays, novels into ballets, novels into plays… The Limit is different. It takes a West End play, adds live music and choreography, replaces the two leading actors with dancers, and then has those two dancers speak the playscript.

The title of the original play, by Sam Steiner, was memorable if unwieldy. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons started out as a fringe two-hander then reappeared early this year at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre with a famous director and showbiz stars. Now, blessed with a new title but reclaimed by its original director, Ed Madden, it has been reborn as dance-theatre, sort of. Dance-theatre that relies on reams of spoken text.Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward in The LimitFrancesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell (both principals at the Royal Ballet and the first of two alternating casts) play, respectively, a pragmatic young lawyer and her long-term boyfriend, a laid-back, freelance type. Their differences grow more pronounced with the arrival of a new law limiting all British citizens to 140 spoken words a day. How does a couple survive such a restriction on the necessary verbal rough and tumble of co-habitation? What does it say about their relationship if, at the end of a working day, she comes home having saved up her quota to spend on him, and he’s already running on empty?

These and other questions could have been more trenchantly excavated if the initial premise of the piece weren’t so flimsy. We hear radio bulletins about the so-called Hush Law without ever being told why it was deemed necessary – beyond vague references to "wellbeing" and “overstimulation”. Nor do we learn how it is to be policed. Hayward’s character, the lawyer, bizarrely supports it, which is one of many challenges to credulity. Campbell’s character joins a protest march against it, confessing later (in as few words as he can muster) to having thrown a brick through a shop window, but his partner seems far more exercised over his chance meeting with his ex.

Both Hayward and Campbell (pictured above) are superb movers, and both are also chameleons, adept at shrugging off their classical ballet look as and when required. It follows then, that they are a pleasure to watch throughout this odd cross-disciplinary project, not least because Kristen McNally's sleek choreography suits them to a tee. But they also talk, and they talk a lot, and while both are perfectly fluent and mostly audible (with discreet miking) it has to be said that trained actors would have found more nuance, more pace and possibly even some depth in the text. The clue is in the training.Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward in The LimitThere is some fun to be had when the couple experiment with various ways to economise on words. Eye-contact, Morse code and clumsy mime are tried and rejected, but running several words together to make a new one seems to stick. "I love you" becomes "luvvoo", which the pair repeat with an awkward frequency, as if saying it will make it true. Important conversations tend to be put off till tomorrow, rows pared down to a few stilted monosyllables.

You imagine the original idea was for the choreography to amplify or comment on these alien verbal textures, but if that's what it did, it was so subtle that you'd need to see the show twice to get it. Likewise the attractive music scored for piano, violin, cello and percussion by Isobel Waller-Bridge seems more accessory that essential component. In fact when run under the dialogue it sometimes threatens the audibility of the words. It's a relief when the music is allowed to be heard for itself, out of competition with the text, just as it's a relief when we see two fine dancers engaged in what they do supremely well, which is dance. 

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