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A CurtainUp London Review

"The same part of a man's brain lights up when he looks at a woman as does when he looks at an adjustable wrench."
— Her
Matt Smith and Claire Foy
(Photo: Helen Maybanks)
Coupled in television's The Crown as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Claire Foy and Matt Smith take on a more modest, socially responsible couple who are embarking on a lifetime of decision-making in this world with its uncertainties of climate change. They continually refer to themselves as good people as they explain what actions they take to protect the environment. In a week when Extinction Rebellion protesters are being arrested all over London and London pollution levels are reported as dangerously high, Lungs sounds as if it will be relevant. But like all global issues, all this ordinary couple can do is at the level of the individual, a miniscule response, like turning off the tap when brushing your teeth.

Duncan Macmillan's two handed play is like a stream of consciousness as, in the queue in the Swedish superstore IKEA, he (Matt Smith) wonders whether they should have a baby. Much of her (Claire Foy)'s initial reaction is to do with the inappropriateness of the IKEA queue with its ready made, straining to catch every word, audience, in which to air a life-changing issue. Then she will explore the environmental impact of bringing another life into the world concluding incongruously that it would be like giving birth to the Eiffel Tower with the creation of ten tons of carbon.

Claire Foy's character is anxious and tends to voice her every misgiving about everything which is both funny and occasionally painful to listen too. Foy is a highly skilled stage actor and her performance is totally convincing. Matt Smith's character is less communicative and he tends to blurt things out instead of thinking about them first.

Duncan Macmillan has written some very good, award winning plays and Lungs is not a recent response to climate change and pollution but was written several years ago and first seen at a studio in Washington DC. Susan Davidson reviewed it for us in DC in 2011 here and simultaneously it was premiered in Sheffield by Paines Plough in its "Roundabout", a touring in the round auditorium.

The set here is two simple slanted metal bed bases with rocks underneath them, the players on a narrow traverse with some of the audience raked at what would be the rear of the stage. This is the closest the temporarily reconfigured Old Vic gets to theatre in the round. The changes of venue and time are clearly directed by Matthew Warchus through body language with Duncan Macmillan's words to underline a shift.

Despite the eco-topicality Lungs is a vehicle for two actors well known through The Crown. The problematic ending seems rushed as the playwright grappled with how to bring to an end to the convoluted relationship. As an audience member I did laugh but there were moments when laughter didn't seem the right response, like nervous laughter when we are not quite sure how to react.

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Written by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring: Claire Foy and Matt Smith
Design: Rob Howell
Lighting Design: Tim Lutkin
Sound: Simon Baker
Principal partner Royal Bank of Canada
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0344 871 7628
Booking to November 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd October 2019 evening performance at The Old Vic, The Cut, London SE1 8NB (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
Index of reviewed shows still running

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