Review: Lungs, Old Vic

One of the hottest tickets of the year, the Old Vic’s revival of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs sees The Crown royalty Claire Foy and Matt Smith reuniting, this time on stage to play a couple questioning the idea of having a baby while considering the impact it would have on climate change.

M (man) and W (woman) are shopping in Ikea when M drops the bombshell that he’d like to have a baby. What follows is a 90-minute emotional two-hander filled with laughter, tears and a LOT of dialogue. With direction from Matthew Warchus, Lungs sees the couple sparring as they discuss whether or not to have a baby, and the impact on the environment of them doing so, with short, sharp scenes reminiscent of Nick Payne’s Constellations. There’s next to no warning of scene changes which results in a fast-paced production, a little jarring at times but nonetheless effective. Their conversation takes place over different times and locations as they debate whether or not to take the next step and consider the carbon footprint of having a child (the equivalent of travelling to New York and back every day for the next seven years, or as W also puts it “giving birth to the Eiffel Tower”). The two roam around Rob Howell’s set, complete with solar panelled flooring, which is overhung by Tim Lutkin’s sharp lighting, exposing them both as they reveal their (many) thoughts to one another.

Lungs is packed full of brilliant one-liners as the two characters spar with each other, but it’s the more emotional moments which give this play more of a punch. The play first premiered in 2011 and if anything it feels more relevant today, what with Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg doing their best to remind the world of the threat of climate change. On the whole Lungs flows well and the brief scenes are effective, but there are the odd moments where the action drags. After a particular point the play becomes a little predictable, and gender stereotypes are reinforced at times – the idea that people’s main purpose in life is to have children is never really questioned. Lungs is very much a middle class play and so as a working class reviewer it’s hard to relate to everything that’s discussed on stage, particularly when the financial implications of having a child – something that would be a big concern to most people – are swept aside so easily. But despite these niggles the play is engaging, which is largely down to the performances of the actors.

Matt Smith and Claire Foy prove once again that they’re a tour-de-force, bouncing off one another brilliantly which results in memorable performances. Smith’s character is the more laid back of the pair and he plays this with ease, demonstrating the cheekiness he brought to the roles of the Doctor and Prince Philip. But it’s as the action develops and M shows his emotional side that we see the true range of Smith’s acting skills and the play really comes alive. Claire Foy is tasked with the lion’s share of the script and the more difficult dialogue which she delivers with ease, leading the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and demonstrating why she’s one of our most promising actors. It’s an absolute joy to watch her as she delivers brilliant one liners (“it’s like you’ve punched me in the face and asked me a maths question” is a particular favourite) with superb comic timing, and then in the blink of an eye breaking the audiences’ hearts as her character deals with the ups and downs of life.

With fantastic performances which are worth the ticket price alone, Lungs is an entertaining and emotional 90 minutes sure to provide food for thought, however audience members considering whether or not to have children may want to give this one a miss!

Lungs is playing at the Old Vic until Saturday 9 November.

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Photo credit: Helen Maybanks




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