Duncan Macmillan
The Old Vic

Claire Foy and Matt Smith Credit: Helen Maybanks
Matt Smith and Claire Foy Credit: Helen Maybanks
Claire Foy and Matt Smith Credit: Helen Maybanks

Like Fleabag, Lungs made its first significant appearance in a small-scale venue on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in this case in the innovative Paines Plough Roundabout.

Although it is undoubtedly a high quality play, a two-hander that stretches to less than 90 minutes would not have expected to receive a West End revival, had it not been for the subsequent success of Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places & Things and star casting.

Matthew Warchus directs The Crown’s Royal couple, former Doctor Who Matt Smith and one of most popular young British screen actresses Claire Foy in an intense evening. The latter edges the battle of the sexes thanks to a marginally better role, in a piece that gets deep into the hearts of its two unnamed characters.

Replicating the earlier production, the staging takes place in the round with the actors placed by designer Rob Howell on a brightly lit series of squares that make an uncomfortable, symbolically imperfect, platform.

The catalyst for a great deal of soul-searching is the utterance by the relatively undemonstrative man of a single word. However, since that word is “baby”, it provokes an immediate reaction from his girlfriend, which swiftly turns into an angry, breathless diatribe.

Thereafter, communications between the aspiring musician and his postgraduate student partner are rarely on the same wavelength.

At times, it feels as if Duncan Macmillan has deliberately constructed a human seesaw on which, as one of the occupants gets high, the other feels low in an incisive vision of trendy yuppies today.

The irony is that often when they are at the most serious, humour emerges to tickle the audience as one or the other becomes increasingly self-righteous at a harmless suggestion from the person with whom they are supposed to be in love.

The anxiety over whether or not to conceive (or at least try), given the Eiffel Tower-sized carbon footprint of the mite that they are hoping to bring into the world, is eventually superseded by a series of events, every one of which rings true.

The main attraction of this intoxicating evening lies in the accuracy of the depictions. Every audience member should recognise some of their own traits in each of the partners, while they will also identify many likenesses to those whom they know and love.

Lungs manages to move through comedy to tragedy, to tragicomedy before eventually reaching an ending that readers will have to pay good money for tickets to enjoy. By that point, they will have witnessed not just a few months in the lives of the unnamed couple but a swift fast forward through their lifetimes.

The clever staging, which utilises pitch perfect language and sentences that frequently fail to reach a conclusion, amplifying arguments that are explosively terrifying, does so without any changes of costume or setting, which somehow becomes superfluous so gripping is the mildly updated text.

Instead, Matthew Warchus makes the most of the talents of two fine actors clearly relishing a rare opportunity to return to the stage and the applause from what are bound to be appreciative audiences during a month-long run that is guaranteed to be sold out.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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