The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Vic Theatre Autumn 2019
A rom-com staple since
Shakespeare or before, the couple obviously made for each other but
seemingly determined to get in their own way are given a few
twenty-first-century twists in Duncan Macmillan's new two-hander.
While there can never be any
real doubt about how things are going to turn out, it is the elegance of
the dance, and the original bits of filigree around the edges, that keep
us happy and engaged.
He (Matt Smith) chooses a
shopping trip to Ikea to suggest to her (Claire Foy) that they might
perhaps begin to consider the possibility of maybe thinking about having a
The prospect sets them both
off into a spin of panic, complicated by their shared – if differently
manifested – need to choose exactly the right words to say what they mean
even when they're not sure what they mean.
In her case this takes the
form of breathless manic near-gabbling as the words come faster than the
thoughts, while he is driven to near-muteness by the fear of saying the
wrong thing (which, of course, he does – 'Are you being hormonal now or
Because the play is set in
the here and now, they can't help being aware of global warming, which
repeatedly and comically becomes a metaphor for or deflection from their
more immediate concerns, as when they find themselves working out the
mathematics of a baby's carbon footprint.
And they must constantly
reassure themselves that they are being politically correct ('We're Good
People. We watch subtitled films.')
Although the ninety-minute
play is structured as one continuous conversation, it is soon clear that
it a string of encounters leaping over first days, then months and finally
What is for the first half a
string of comic variations on crosstalk and non-communication grows more
serious when tragedy strikes and their inability to express themselves
openly means that they aren't there for each other when most needed.
But it is no spoiler to say
that things do eventually work out, even if the playwright has to inject
huge doses of sentimentality to get there.
Playwright Macmillan and
director Matthew Warchus somewhat limit their actors by giving each of
them little more than a single note – manic gabbling for her, stumbling
incoherence for him – to play throughout.
And it is a credit to both
performers that they do as much as they do to find variations on their
simple melodies and to flesh out the characters, holding our attention and
Even at ninety minutes Lungs lingers on a bit too long, always in danger of losing its focus. Somewhere inside it is a really first-rate one-hour TV play.
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