Review by Carly Fisher
One of the best things about coming to the Edinburgh Fringe is the opportunity to see and experience so much new writing that you can tell is only on the cusp of its journey. Bitter Lemons by Lucy Hayes is one such example. This fast paced, clever, punchy duologue play tackles major feminist topics and concentrates on a woman’s right to choose what is right for her own body, in this circumstance, in the way of abortion.
Told in overlapping monologues, the show largely sees the two performers go at it alone for the duration of the show, interweaving their stories only as the play climaxes towards the end. Whilst in some ways that leaves you wishing for more interaction between the two (because it is beautiful when you do get to see it), in many ways it so cleverly represents the female experience - going through all of the things that women go through, feeling alone, yet simultaneously to so many other women next to you.
We follow two women - one trying to make her way up the corporate ladder, the other, a female footballer aiming to make it to goalie…so perfectly timely as Edinburgh Fringe and the World Cup finals overlap this week. In each of their respective fields, there is a constant reminder of the obstacles that get in the way of women striving to reach the top of their field.
Chanel Waddock breathes life into our aspiring goalie. Waddock is an extremely dynamic performer whose characterisation in Bitter Lemons is vivacious, powerful and equally as heartfelt as it is heartbreaking. Waddock adopts the physicality and energy of a footballer with perfect conviction - so much so, I’d be surprised if I were to learn that she had not played the game herself at some point in life. Through the one hour performance - which is both physically demanding and a total emotional rollercoaster for her character - Waddock’s drive, projection, vocal clarity and fire to tell the story is unwavering. Put simply, Waddock is extremely impressive in this piece - it is hard to take your eyes off her skilled performance and I would certainly see anything that I see she is in next!
Shannon Hayes too takes on a demanding track as we follow her character navigating not just what it takes to climb the corporate ladder, but particularly what it takes when you are to do so as a biracial woman in a company that reeks of both misogyny and racism. Hayes’ performance comes across as more introverted when compared to Waddock - a clever character choice and allowing for an overall well balanced performance. In fact, I’ll say quickly here how nice it is to see 2 monologues work so brilliantly to compliment one another, never to compete with one another - a testament to Lucy Hayes’ direction. Hayes plays with such conviction, the pain of the circumstances that her character finds herself in radiating through her. It’s hard not to feel the need to exhale deeply, grunt even, as Hayes walks us through the extreme sense of being ‘the token’ in her company, of not being valued for the immense contribution you are making to a workplace but instead, being noticed only for the diversity boxes you tick - it is blood boiling-ly frustrating to watch (let alone what it is to go through it!) and Hayes guides the audience through this with such generosity as a performer. Both actors deliver their characters with such gusto that the text shines in their capable hands.
Lucy Hayes takes on the role of Director, as well as playwright. Cleverly, Hayes chooses to have the two actors represent all of the external forces in their lives - parents, partners, colleagues, bosses, boyfriends, coaches, etc - through the two actors as they pick up microphones to give voice to these external conversations. It is a tasteful solution to external dialogue. Minimal set is used to stage this show in its fringe iteration but the minimalism of the space works. It is intentionally vast, intentionally placeless. These decisions all serve well to remind us that there is no one place, one person or one circumstance where women are subjected to situations like those we follow these characters through - it is a universal female experience. Hayes has clearly worked closely with the two actors to extract suburb characterisation from both and has given the production the loving touch she had already given her writing.
In a further production of this text, it would be great to see the work advance the interaction between the two characters even more, playing further on the idea of them being ships in the night but navigating through the same storm.
Irrespective of the industry, I anticipate that many women in their 20s and 30s will feel that these characters resonate with or reflect their own experiences and as such, this work will always find an audience of women who feel themselves being heard.
A strong fringe offering - I look forward to seeing what is next for both the play and for those Company.