Matt Smith and Claire Foy’s chemistry reacts with the play’s biology in this spectacular revival of ‘Lungs’ at the Old Vic.
This is huge event in many ways: two of the hottest acting talents in the country are not only performing live together, but doing so following their triumph in one of the most lauded TV dramas of recent years.
Part of The Crown’s initial success must surely be down to the magnetic appeal of watching Claire Foy (Elizabeth II) and Matt Smith (Prince Philip) spark off of each other and presenting the very human traits behind the ultimate aristocratic partnership.
Here they go again playing a bickering couple in love, but this time the performance starts in Ikea rather than Windsor, and the subject of discussion is a baby rather that the great affairs of state. Lungs tells the story of thirty-somethings M and W wrestling with the environmental cost of becoming parents in this anxious age.
“Ten thousand tonnes of CO2!” cries W. “That’s the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I’ll be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower!”
Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander is the perfect vehicle for a couple of talented actors supremely at ease with their craft, and one another. Virtually an 80-minute conversation that travels across the years; it’s a witty, breathless piece of writing that places great emphasis on the virtuosity of the performers.
With no props or set — apart from what looks like solar panels, on top of which Smith and Foy pace, sprawl, leap and dance — it’s all about the dialogue and how it’s delivered. It is a great tribute to both actors that our interest is rapt for the entire time.
Often too fast for my note-taking, the duo thrust and parry with repartee before the play settles down to show W as a rather neurotic, garrulous PhD student and M as a laid-back wannabe musician, often overwhelmed by his partner’s feverish intelligence. “When we’re talking, I can’t take my eyes off you,” he confides.
Foy has the more showy role, but a couple of heartbreaking twists allow Smith to develop his character. That said, both struggle for some kind of comprehension in a time of ecological concern, particularly when the best advice is to just slow down and “breathe”. Crucially, as they did with Liz and Phil, Smith and Foy help us to feel for these characters and their relationship – so we are rooting for them as they take their unsteady steps to possible parenthood.
Fluidly directed by Matthew Warchus, scenes beautifully segue into each other with the turn of a head or the break of an embrace.
As a production it blazes, and any deficiencies are swept away by a Foy on fire and a smouldering Smith to guarantee a surefire hit for the Vic.
Lungs runs at the Old Vic until November 9.
Words by Jonathan Lovett.
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Also published on Medium.