Review - Lungs starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith at The Old Vic
Playwrights often sit down to ambitiously write a play that aims to answer life’s big questions. In Duncan Macmillan’s drama Lungs, he aims to answer little questions in a big way, which mean the absolute world to its central characters.
Those characters are just a pretty normal, nameless couple. He, played by Matt Smith, is a gigging musician while she, played by Claire Foy, is a PhD student. Together they wrestle through their conversations with whether they should bring a baby into a world which is declining at the hands of climate change, initially doing so where most big debates begin, waiting in a queue.
While it is usually simple to separate an actor from their previous roles, it proves slightly trickier to do so for the first 20 minutes as Foy and Smith, who portrayed the Queen and Prince Philip in the first two series of The Crown, bicker and ponder over their relationship as they did in the series. But as Smith employs some of the lackadaisical demeanour he injected into the young Duke of Edinburgh, Foy shines with her character’s fizzy brain sparking off in all directions.
Smith feels like a supporting player to Foy’s performance. She drives Matthew Warchus’ sharp, snappy production with brilliant timing, the entire time teetering on the edge of belly-laugh comedy and heart-wrenching tragedy.
There’s a pace to the text that is reflected in Warchus’ direction. He packs their entire relationship into one play, and it’s stripped into an 80-minute snapshot that flashes before your eyes. Played in the round, Foy and Smith spend much in perfect symmetry: when there is harmony in their relationship, they are perfect reflections of each other.
But the couple’s story takes twists and turns over a dramatic final half-hour, satisfyingly picking apart two people who have never seemed to quite click. You’ve never got the impression these two are made for each other, but unfortunately, as the play plummets its unhappy albeit correct ending, it falls back on giving the manipulative, reprehensible male character a redemption speech he is entirely undeserving of. It’s the only part of the play that feels formulaic, but it also feels lazy.
That should take nothing away from Foy’s excellent emotive performance, though. As her brain spirals of into tangents – Smith hardly able to get a word in edgeways – she makes it seem totally natural and flowing.
Like any theatre, Lungs is a play you witness differently depending on your experience. If you’re young or contemplating parenthood, then you will leave the Old Vic with a million questions about yourself flying through your head: should you have kids? Should you finally quit your job and go travelling? Are you actually a good person? But if you’ve been through it all already, you’ll recognise two people making mountains out of molehills, who don’t yet realise that, in the grand scheme of things, those little things don’t matter.
Lungs tickets are available now.
Photo by Helen Maybanks