Bitter Lemons - Edinburgh Fringe 2023
RJG Productions, Bristol Old Vic, Pleasance present writer Lucy Hayes’ “Bitter Lemons” -a play for two actors (Shannon Hayes and Chanel Waddock). It’s a dual-monologue style show where the monologues told in the second person are interwoven. Two stories unfold in parallel. One is from a biracial woman making her way in the finance sector, determined to do well so she can give herself an “easy life” and take care of her mother’s mortgage. The other is a white woman who will finally get her shot at being the number one goalie on her football team. Women doing well in male-dominated cultures. They both have absent fathers but pretty good mother-daughter relationships, humorously portrayed. As the play moves forward and greater success beckons, they also have a common decision to make. Should they or should they not have an abortion? We never learn these woman’s names and the anonymity gives them both an “every-woman” quality as women world-wide face denial of healthcare and agency (Hayes wrote the play following the overturning of Roe v Wade.)
The actors are engaging, Chanel Waddock as the footballer is fierce as she kicks against stereotypes. She idealises her father and when that bubble bursts Waddock conveys the characters complex emotions with skill. Shannon Hayes delivers a slick performance of a young corporate hustler on the rise. Both characters are let down by the men in their lives and the consequences are well navigated by the cast. Although, let’s face it, it’s a shame that the writer centralised offstage male characters to explore these young women’s futures.
The setting is a very simple open space. The actors use microphones when presenting the voices of characters other than the young women they portray. That’s a neat convention. Costuming is appropriate if suffering from the lean resources of an indie show. Someone working in the up-market financial field would dress smartly.
The writing does lean into sentimentality at times, and this is particularly true of the plotting that creates an unacknowledged bond between the young women. Lucy Hayes also directs. Its pacy and a bit one-note. She misses some opportunities to finesse overlapping text which not only dramatises the connection between the two characters but supports the “everywoman” focus of the play. The feminism is all very digestible and like a 101 intro. Certainly, the young women in the audience found the work powerful and the age-appropriate text is bound to turn up in auditions everywhere. I didn’t find it as gripping as others have but there’s no doubt it is packing a punch. All power to those who produce new writing!