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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Lungs
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 baby.

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 just nasty?')

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 years.

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 sympathy.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Lungs  - Old Vic Theatre 2019

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