Roundabout is a pop-up theatre created by Paines Plough in association with the Southbank Centre. Its dome space gives you a 360 degree, intimate experience of some of the greatest new writing presently on the arts scene.
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan kicks off with a big conversation in Ikea, asking the question, ‘shall we have a baby?’. The characters ask ‘Are we good?’ and more accurately are we good enough to have a child? Is it right in our climate today to been adding to the already over populated world? Can we make up for having a baby by planting forests? But isn’t it our duty to have a baby to supply to the world with other ‘good’ people? Surely we can’t leave it up to the people who don’t think about these things to multiply!
The dialogue is punchy and relentless; it’s a true rambling of inner thought. It was brilliant how these conscious ramblings faultlessly streamed from the actors’ mouths, hitting every stuttered word and at points talking directly over each other. Yet each word made sense and the scenes became very natural because of this quick thinking diarrhoea of dialogue. It was fast-paced and each breath, pause, emphasis of word was perfectly placed to weight the dialogue in just the right place.
This meant that for the entire 80 minutes of this play Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis, who played the couple, gave it every inch of their focus. Reese-Williams was particularly funny and relatable, playing the part of a neurotic and slightly highly strung woman with humour and charisma. Salis’s calmness and honesty made his character enthralling. These actors were perfectly matched to give the audience a captivating performance.
When the characters did pause it was heavy with intent. A few of these moments stood out: a pause when Reese-Williams asked for a hug and it was done using space alone – no touching. Somehow the actors relaxed their bodies as if in a hug and their breathing changed but they were opposite sides of the space to each other. Another was a longer more potent pause reaching the climax of the play, where there was no movement and extreme eye contact but it was well earned and said everything with its silence.
I adored how they changed to the next scene by having no change! The actors would put a new fresh energy into the following word, for example ‘Good night’ to ‘Good morning’ within seconds but you believed it was the next day. This meant the play could skip days and even years effortlessly.
Lungs was filled with more bombshells of plot than I expected and it was a rollercoaster ride of emotions through this couple’s life. I wonder why it was called Lungs; was it the breath and lung capacity it took to perform such a articulate play, was it the issue of carbon dioxide and the damage we do to the world, was it that we never take a chance to breathe in this world?
The wonderful thing about the Roundabout venue is its intimacy which means the simpler the production the better. There was no actual stage, no props or complex lighting, yet in Lungs when the characters talk about eating a sandwich by saying ‘do you want some of this’ it was clear and convincing.
With Lungs you watch a lifespan of a couple which primarily focuses on a pivotal moment in their lives; the rest seems to fade away after this, leaving you with a very sad but beautiful feeling. I highly recommend seeing the entire Roundabout season.
Lungs is playing at Soutbank Centre until 18 July. For tickets and more information, see the Southbank Centre website.