Claire Foy And Matt Smith Breathe New Life Into Duncan Macmillan's Lungs
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A couple deciding whether or not to bring a baby's carbon footprint into a world threatened by climate crisis. It's hard to believe that Duncan Macmillan's Lungs was written ten years ago, so pertinent is it to today. Especially with Extinction Rebellion having just ended a two-week protest occupation of London and Greta Thunberg sparking a wave of global school climate strikes, environmental issues are dominating the headlines.
The brilliant thing about Macmillan's 80-minute two-hander is that it engages accessibly with big ideas about the plight of our planet through the ups and downs of an individual intimate relationship. The archetypal W (Woman) and M (Man) are a very believable, youngish middle-class liberal couple who pride themselves on their enlightened values, which nonetheless don't stop them behaving very badly at times. Lungs satirises their contradictions and pretensions, while also touchingly revealing the tenderness at the heart of their flawed love.
The 'baby conversation' begins in the queue at Ikea, leading to various tragicomic twists and turns as their uncertain destiny evolves over the years. Macmillan's seamless jumps in time and place filter out all extraneous material so that the play concentrates on the life-defining decisions of the pair. And in a breath-taking five-minute coda he fast forwards through their lifelong partnership amidst an overpopulated world in ecological decline.
Matthew Warchus's stripped-back, in-the-round production set on a stage made of solar panels and rock crystals elicits terrifically sharp performances from its stars. Their characters may be less royal than the couple they played in Netflix's The Crown, but in the spotlight here Claire Foy and Matt Smith acquit themselves immaculately with the right chemistry between them. They are both on top of the quick-fire dialogue, often getting big laughs, but even through arguing they manage to convey the strong emotional attachment of two people deeply anxious about the future.
Lungs, Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB, £20-£65. Until 9 November
Last Updated 23 October 2019