Review: Lungs, The Old Vic
4.0Overall Score
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Here’s something a little bit different. Instead of the conventional approach of one person reviewing a show, Managing Editor, Sam Sims and Reviews Editor, Josephine Balfour-Oatts decide to critique Lungs together. They also decide to talk about it, rather than write. So, they popped to the Young Vic’s bar and did just that. This is what they had to say:

SS: So, what did you think?

JBO: What did YOU think?

SS: I, thought it was really good. Claire Foy especially was amazing. I did think Matt Smith’s accent definitely changed though. It started off sounding like – what’s he called in The Crown? What’s his character called?

JBO: Phillip?

SS: Yes Phillip. It sounded like Prince Phillip. Very clipped and…

JBO: Upper class?

SS: Yeah. But then as it graduated, he had these South London inflections? Do you think?

JBO: Yes, I did think that. I thought it was him trying to find his way from being a boy to a man. At the beginning he sounded quite childlike and then he sounded quite adult and clear cut?

SS: I didn’t get that from his character, I didn’t get that he developed from a boy to a man. With you saying that to me now, I didn’t really associate that change, but it’s interesting that you did and maybe that’s what he was going for. If he was even aware of it.

JBO: Yeah.

SS: But Claire Foy was amazing, with adapting to the quick changes in situation.

JBO: The set was interesting.

SS: Yeah it was kind of what I was expecting. You haven’t read the play, have you?

JBO: No.

SS: I wasn’t expecting it to be so simple.

JBO: Yes, it was very simple. I did like how the grid on the floor represented tectonic plates and those two separate spaces on the edge of the stage had these crystals and rocks spilling out from underneath them… The attention to detail was really quite nice. I feel that was similar in terms of the writing as well. There was a musicality – a staccato – a wave and the action spilled back and forth… It felt very much like the sea. Also, the notion of pregnancy being very much like a natural disaster. That was really interesting.

SS: Yeah, that’s a theme running throughout isn’t it? This impending natural disaster of having kids seems like a very real issue that a lot of people considering kids have.

JBO: I had a problem with the end. It felt a lot longer than 85 minutes and I feel like there were perfect moments where it could have finished. You grew to love these two characters though – they were heartwarming and heartbreaking and you really went on a journey with them. It was very honest and raw and real and I think that’s where the magic was kept. The end – for me – went on for a bit too long. In a sense it always felt like it was her (Foy’s character) against the world even though she had him (Smith’s character) in the equation, so I wasn’t sure what the ending signified and whether it was completely necessary as a conclusion.

SS: I’m not sure how much we can say about the end… But it does feel kind of separate and I’m not sure about its relevance… How do you feel about its relevance now? I mean, it’s not an old play but our very real concerns about the environment have come to the forefront this year, especially with people being far more aware. Does it feel dated now?

JBO: I liked how it had flashes of greenery, starting with Smith’s socks and Foy’s shoelaces – 

SS: I didn’t even think that. I love how you notice all this weird shit.

JBO: And this was present throughout with the re-visiting of the need to plant trees  and repopulation. It was certainly well researched with facts and statistics and they made light of these as well. This was in addition to their neuroses and anxieties which are seeming traits of the so called ‘Snowflake’ generation. A term I abhor by the way.

SS: I feel like Foy’s character especially was shown as being highly neurotic – much more so than him and I don’t know how I feel about that.

JBO: Yes, the play showcased typical masculine and feminine traits which is curious given that we’re talking a lot about trans rights and non-binary identifying people at present. When referring to their baby they were saying him/ her and weren’t including a they in there. Maybe that would have made it a bit more current? Although, at the beginning they seemed to be transgressing their gender roles with Smith broaching the subject of having children whereas usually (generalising here!) it’s the woman whose role is to make it happen. So, it did start with an initial subversion of the roles of men and women.

SS: I just think that with her neuroses it’s very clear that it was written by a man? 

JBO: Agreed, you can tell all the way through. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

What did you think of their grey attire? Did it colour the language? Did it give rise to that? What did you think of the look and feel of the production?

SS: I clearly don’t think about things as colourfully as you do, because I just looked at the outfits and wondered if they’d come to work in those… That’s very much what the costumes are though, they’re grey – with the green socks and shoelaces as you mentioned. I guess they’re not supposed to draw your attention and that’s why it was kept so neutral. To keep the focus on the dialogue.

JBO: And how do you feel about the transformation from page to stage?

SS: I absolutely adore the way it is written. There’s a lot of forward slashes and commas to mark interruptions and jumping into new time frames. It was very exciting to read and it captured that experience perfectly on stage.

JBO: Did you find the event equally as exciting?

SS: I think it was exciting because of the actors – especially Foy. Can you tell that I like Claire Foy…?

JBO: She was very good. Very magnetic.

The dialogue definitely had this feeling of climate change – it was very rapid. There was a certain rising of heat which was reflected in their relationship as well. There were times when it peaked and exploded. There were anxieties bubbling underneath the surface of the action. There were also moments where everyone in the audience laughed and that was really nice to watch.

SS: When he said the word Fiancé. That was funny.

But it wasn’t the sort of audience reaction you might expect from a show that has big celebs in it. It was just really nice and I think people appreciated it for what it was – a great play and two great actors. 

JBO: Yeah. Very easy to watch and very joyous.

SS: How do you feel it represented relationships? Because for me, that’s what it was about – the essence. A couple worried and anxious about everything, from the ‘snowflake generation’ to their impact on the world. But it’s just about their relationship –

JBO: That’s where it had power – in its honesty and portrayal of two seemingly ordinary people doing something huge. It is monumental. I think it captured their relationship really well – the tide and the speed. They spoke this language together which you only get through being very intimate with someone over a long period of time. That felt quite true. It’s very easy to fall into.

It was also relentless and had only one moment of silence. That texture and change was really haunting. 

SS: There was that audience member that sneezed when they were silent, asleep on stage, and Smith woke up at the exact same moment.

JBO: It was perfect! Brilliant. I enjoyed that sudden absence of sound.

SS: There was also a moment near the end when Smith told Foy to “shut the fuck up”. I felt so on edge because I was so used to her talking and then she just stands there watching him. But of course, he doesn’t have anything to say, really. We get so used to them talking for an hour and a half.

Did it make you feel depressed about life?

JBO: Erm…through reading a book called Factfulness (by Hans Rosling), I learned that I’m a lot more fearful and cynical about the state of the world as it is, but also that I need to be more optimistic. That it’s a lot better than I thought is very interesting. I wasn’t disheartened by the play. It obviously creates fear, but it covers all the good things that are happening too. Like, making a human life, or loving someone so much that you don’t quite know what to do about it. So these elements juxtaposed with huge, catastrophic events made me feel warm, not cold.

SS: I guess it discusses this very real anxiety faced by us – Millennials as well as those younger and of course older – everyone of never feeling like we’re doing enough and working to do more as individuals. But, at the end of the day, you have to live your life. If you want to have a family then you should just have a family. However, they do contemplate how to have a kid in terms of the ‘natural’ way or adopting. I’m of the opinion that adopting is where we should be going… It’s a new thing for me because myself and my partner want kids soon after we’re married next year and for a long time I’ve wanted my own. I thought: Fuck this, just because I’m gay, why not? But if you really think about it, it is ridiculous! There are so many kids that are alive and need homes.

JBO: Something else being discussed widely is fertility and I wasn’t surprised at it being a plot point in the play. It seemed like it had to because of the current conversation around men and women and one’s fertility threshold. These two are on the threshold of their lives. It seems like they are going to cross it, but then they come back from the edge – from this whole other dimension. I enjoyed that.

SS: It’s very much cemented in real life and what we know, but it’s interesting what you said about another dimension. It feels surreal at times doesn’t it? It’s without a proper setting, they don’t have names, definite ages – which is great. It’s on the surface… They’re an everywoman and everyman.

JBO: That’s an interesting observation.

There’s this running theme of what makes a ‘good person’ too…

SS: They talk about plastic bags which feels dated. Surely we are too conscious now of our use of them?

(Looking at Josephine’s notes) Do you write like that so other critics can’t read your notes?

JBO: I’ve had people do that.

SS: Bastards.

What did you think of the staging? We were sat on the stage itself and I’ve never experienced that before.

JBO: Did you think it being in the round added to the production at all? Was it a comment on shape of the Earth?

SS: I didn’t really get that from it… The Director (Matthew Warchus) used this staging well but don’t think it was necessary… I could have quite happily sat in a conventional theatre format.

JBO: We could see the audience opposite and I’m wondering if it’s an attempt to challenge us with the script and its politics, its urgency, on a human level. Holding up a mirror and seeing us reflected back. It must have been a directorial decision and a means of connecting the audience in that way.

SS: Yeah, I found myself looking at people – not consciously, but using that time to reflect on what I’d just seen.

JBO: I saw a woman wiping tears from her eyes.

SS: Bless.

JBO: It was interesting to gauge other people’s reactions. Essentially, it’s a play about humanity.

SS: Ultimately it’s a play that really leans on its actors to bring the writing to life. Particularly actors who have an undeniable chemistry… Perhaps that is why they cast Foy and Smith.

JBO: They’re national treasures – crown jewels. Their history in terms of TV work really added to the production value.

SS: Makes perfect sense – it’s nice to have clarity. We weren’t sure over our meal in Pizza Express were we? About whether it was stunt casting.

JBO: Well done guys.

SS: Well done Foy, call me!

Lungs is playing the Old Vic until Sat 9 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Old Vic Website.