“The average person will speak 123,205,750 words in a lifetime. But what if there were a limit?” This was the conceit of Sam Steiner's 2015 play, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons.
I'd been searching for a story or a play which would provide an opportunity for myself and Francesca Hayward to develop a new piece and I was fortunate that my sister – an actor and producer – had just read Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons and suggested it to me. My firm belief is that ballet and dance can communicate and express things in ways that words can't… so a play that examines how we communicate and whether we can still do so in meaningful ways even when we're limited by the number of words we can say seemed like an exciting opportunity.
The Limit imagines a world where a couple meet and begin a relationship as the government imposes a 140-word limit per person, per day, on the population. We see their relationship develop as the limit is imposed and what that does to how they communicate.
Ed Madden, the director of The Limit, was the original director of Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons – “so was intimately familiar with the play” – at Warwick Arts Centre for just three performances at the beginning of 2015, in the spring it appeared at the National Student Drama Festival, and by the time it reached the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August it was causing quite a stir. Steiner was just 21 at the time. Since then, it has been performed widely, with productions in Greece, France, Austria, Mexico, Turkey, China, Russia, Spain, and Italy. Earlier this year the two-hander arrived in London's West End.
The remaining creative team hadn't seen the play until we all went to see the recent West End revival featuring Aiden Turner and Jenna Coleman. By then we'd been working on our idea for about 18 months, so it was thrilling to see the original source material live and in such a famous venue too!
Two actors and now two dancers?
As well as myself and Francesca onstage we have four musicians who will be playing Isobel Waller-Bridge's beautiful new score.
We're also extremely fortunate to have two incredible alternate casts in Jacob Wye and Hannah Rudd. It's been fascinating to watch a different couple take on the roles and I am excited to see their performances.
So what did your producing role entail?
I conceived the original idea for a dance adaptation and was responsible for getting Sam Steiner, Ed Madden, Kristen McNally, Francesca Hayward, and myself together. I prepared a pitch for the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House, and they agreed to support us with a research and development grant.
We then created about 20 minutes of material to demonstrate how we would tackle the show and what the show might look like… after seeing what we'd created the Royal Ballet agreed to produce the piece for the Linbury Theatre.
Kristen McNally, Principal Character Artist of The Royal Ballet, is known as a superb actress and dancer, and also a bubbly presenter, often with you, for World Ballet Day. However, also choreography is an important part of her career.
Kristen has choreographed for numerous productions and companies, including BalletBoyz and New English Ballet Theatre, but this is her first production for the Royal Ballet. Frankly, I believe it's come far later than she deserves, and I'm delighted that she agreed to be part of this project.
Whilst discussing the original idea with Francesca, she suggested Kristen would be a strong option as choreographer and she was absolutely right. Kristen has a quirky choreographic style, enjoys using written material as inspiration for movement and – hugely important for this project – is happy to work in a collaborative environment.
Yes, it is not often that there is a director working alongside the choreographer.
It is unusual for a ballet to have a director but, as this isn't strictly a ballet, I felt it was important to have someone shaping the entire production. In Ed, as the original director of Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, we have someone who knows the play better than anyone else in the world other than Sam, and he's also very talented, incredibly gracious and has worked superbly well with Kristen and all the creatives in pulling together such a layered and multi-faceted production.
You have also gone for an original score, commissioning Isobel Waller-Bridge to compose it.
It's rather beautiful, eerie, and surprising. I can't wait to be onstage hearing it played live. Then there are costumes and sets are designed by Anisha Fields and we're looking forward to seeing them in the Linbury Theatre soon!
When I interviewed you and Francesca Hayward in 2018 you both mentioned the chemistry there is between you – she said, “we hear and feel the music with the same musicality”.
Working with Francesca has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my career and I can't imagine tackling this project with anyone else. I'm just glad that she said yes when I pitched the idea to her!
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.