An ageless woman sits on stage surrounded by half-filled glasses of exotic fruit juices and a cosy flat interior. The story she is here to tell us is one that fills her face with childish delight and excitement, but as she begins with an explicit and detailed account of how the Nazi’s monopolised gas chambers, it may not be one the audience are so comfortable with.
Lemon, addressing the audience directly, tells us of her adored Aunt Dan. American and brash, Dan (Lorraine Ashbourne), an Oxford lecturer, was a friend of her parents and a steady presence in Lemon’s life until the age of 11. Over the top, gregarious and sanctimonious in equal parts, Dan is described by Lemon as being the only person to have really mattered in her life, seemingly uninterested in the rest of the world.
It is the summer of her 11th year that Lemon centres on. Each evening Dan would come to Lemon’s bedroom and regale her with tales of her past life and loves. Nostalgic and cruel stories of affairs, money, sex and murder are played out by the shadows of the past as Lemon watches from the corner of the room, shock and pleasure cast over her face. Brought back to the safety of Lemon’s bedroom, the characters from Dan’s memory draw back into the dark corners of the stage, remaining always present in the back of their minds and the audience’s vision.
Set in the English countryside during the Vietnam war, Dan, obsessed with the American diplomat Henry Kissinger, debates with Lemon’s mother (Mary Roscoe) about the necessity of making hard decisions and the justification of mass killing for the greater good, as Lemon’s mother reflects the audience’s horror and Lemon’s face soaks in every word Dan says, taking it as gospel.
Jane Horrocks is perfect casting for the impressionable Lemon, dressed in shades of yellow with her hair scraped back by childish hair slides, she transforms from grown woman to child with a wide-eyed look or youthful gesture. The characters from Dan’s past contrast with the bland but homely chintz-filled set, dressed in glamorous satin dresses and fifties, movie star hairstyles. But Dan, wearing trousers and a low cut shirt, lending an air of feminism, is the most dominant and striking character in Lemon’s world.
It is there where the danger in Wallace Shawn’s play lies, as Dan’s allure and influence shapes the rest of Lemon’s isolated and uneventful life. As Lemon tells us in the opening scene, she believes it is not what you do that is important, but what you were told and the people you knew. But Lemon, so intoxicated by Dan, knows only the memories of the people Dan knew and her cruel belief that the end always justifies the means.