Socially Distanced 'Lungs' Theatre Review | Old Vic: In Camera, Duncan Macmillan

Hello and welcome to my first ever theatre review! I've always loved theatre, film and TV, so there's nothing that I'd love more than to be a part of that world - on or off stage or even camera! I was gutted to miss out on seeing Duncan Macmillan's play 'Lungs' at The Old Vic last year as both Smith and Foy are up there with my favourite actors. So when I discovered that they're returning to the stage for 'Old Vic: In Camera', I was ecstatic!


'Lungs' was written by Duncan Macmillan, first premiered in 2011 and held its British debut at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Macmillan's plays are known for featuring contemporary socio-political themes, with Lungs' particular focus on parenthood. A wonderful thought-provoking exploration of love, marriage and the possible consequences of having a baby in a flawed environmentally-damaged world. For the unnamed couple, there seems to be no right answer to prevent future catastrophe and their baby (also known as '10,000 tonnes of CO2') could only add to the destruction of the environment.


Lungs was first hosted at The Old Vic in 2019, yet due to Coronavirus restrictions and to help with the theatre's funding, it was reprised in June 2020 for Old Vic: In Camera. Directed by Matthew Warchus, Lungs was reprised to watch at home through live stream. The tickets were limited to 1000 people to match the capacity of The Old Vic in normal circumstances, yet tickets varied in price despite everyone experiencing the same viewing.


The difficulties of altering the play to adhere to social distancing are unthinkable, yet it was wonderfully executed. To make this work, the actors were divided with a split-screen while the camera allowed them to look closer together so the result felt natural and the difference between normal production was hardly noticeable. Similarly, the creative use of the camera angles provided the illusion of distance between characters. For example, wider shots were used to demonstrate distance whereas closer shots were provided to enhance the emotion-fuelled moments between the characters.


Despite being separated by two metres throughout the entire performance, Matt Smith and Claire Foy performed brilliantly. Portraying an unnamed couple, they explore the complexities of life, pregnancy, environmentalism and the future. Smith's character (known as 'M') suggests the couple consider having a baby, yet Foy's character (known only as 'F') questions the idea and this leads to a deep discussion on the ethics and consequences of having a baby. Perhaps out of the two roles, I feel that Foy's performance was stronger - through her incredible versatility in exploring different emotions, such as through her portrayal of happiness in one moment to panic in the next - from one extreme to another, resulting in a masterclass in acting. That's not to disregard Smith's wonderful performance as he once again threw such energy and imagination into the role, yet 'Lungs' simply appears to be written with the female role having the more powerful and engaging dialogue that arguably overshadows the male role.


Macmillan's fast-paced dialogue was easily brought to life through Smith and Foy, perhaps aided by their fantastic chemistry from previous projects together, i.e. 'The Crown'. From the very start, their dialogue bounced off each other creating drama and tension yet soon slows, providing the audience with time to think. Macmillan's writing is extremely thought-provoking and makes you question the world we live in; to consider how our everyday decisions can impact the environment and to remind ourselves of just how much we take for granted.


Despite Lungs first debuting in 2011, the content is still current and arguably even more relevant to modern society today. With a strong focus on improving our everyday environmental choices and questioning how our decisions may impact on the future of human beings and the planet itself, it's definitely a topic which is still significant today. The costume and characterisation further reinforce this: with Foy's character dressed in dungarees and Smith's wearing a shirt and trainers - both instantly give the impression of a modern young couple questioning the world around them and their potential influence over generations to come.


As Macmillan's states at the beginning of his play, Lungs is performed on a bare stage. The set design is extremely minimalistic: empty except for two propped-up tiles. The empty stage allowed the actors to test their limits, forcing them to provide all of the movement and imagination through speech and body language alone, with no props to help them. Possibly, this may have been to further emphasise the characters themselves and ensure the audience were fully engaged with the dialogue. Furthermore, there's no sound except for the actors themselves and only minimal lighting which reinforces this idea. However, let's not forget, this production was performed under Covid19 restrictions and this may have been different under normal conditions on stage.


I thoroughly enjoyed this performance and appreciate that The Old Vic could go ahead with this production. Despite providing this production via live stream and therefore introducing a new media format to experiment with, I believe that it was highly successful! It could also potentially be extremely beneficial if it were possible to have this option in normal circumstances - it certainly removes a lot of anxiety! Naturally, some elements of the theatre couldn't be reproduced to their full extent yet there was still such creativity and thought behind the production nonetheless. Moreover, I particularly enjoyed how The Old Vic provided the sound effects of audience chatter while waiting for the play to begin - close your eyes and you really could believe you're there!


Overall, I really enjoyed this performance and highly recommend that you see it if you have the chance! It's an extremely thought-provoking and powerful piece, that makes you question life and consider how our daily choices could impact us all. Although Lungs is no longer available via 'Old Vic: In Camera', there may still be plans to transfer the play to the US, although this now depends on coronavirus and may be cancelled.

I hope you enjoyed my first theatre review, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Did you see 'Lungs' either in person or virtually? What did you think?


Take care,

Sophie x


Lungs, Duncan Macmillan

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