‘Sharp eyed little gem about coupledom’: LUNGS – The Old Vic ★★★★

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

Old Vic Theatre, London – until 9 November 2019

Here’s a sharp eyed little gem about coupledom and the wary, fretful road towards parenthood in an age of easy contraception and illimitable expectations. It is often snortingly funny (the young, I suspect, laughing at themselves and their mates, my generation rolling our eyes at their ability to overthink the most basic elements of life and anxious conviction that in pleasing themselves they are ‘good people’).

It’s by Duncan Macmillan, whose plays both showcase actors and demand of them unusual extremes of stamina and truthfulness. So Matthew Warchus does well to recruit, for this 90 minute non-stop two-hander, a duo who do well to shake off their slower screen personae from Netflix.​​​

For now Claire Foy and Matt Smith are no longer dutiful HM and surly Duke from The Crown but a young, scruffy, barely fledged modern couple – he a gig musician with a record shop job, she doing a PhD and unwilling to take paid work. Both feel a bit stale in their Ikea and clubbing life, and go through angsts about the environment and birthstrikey worries about whether to have a baby which will emit carbon dioxide all its life. ​

Their conversation moves elegantly across a floor of jagged solar panels. With particularly clever physicality and tone we see them over many months and then years in an Ikea queue, homes, a car, bed, a park, hospital: it’s always clear, always flowing from one intensity or absurdity to the next. There is a plot, an ordinary romcom in some ways but always sharply edged with the particular absurdities of their attitudes, confusions and fraught but necessary connection.  ​​​​

Often Foy’s woman is almost unbearably irritating, witteringly thinking aloud, demanding, agonisedly self- absorbed while Smith often stands there like a bewildered Easter Island Statue. But then we find we are on her side against his unregenerate blokeishness. Then again, we feel for him in his bewilderment, admiring his ability to grow up and wondering how on earth any man and woman ever do get on together in the age of offence and self-analysis.​​​

It could be just a nimble dissection of a generation: yet Macmillan trawls wider, as ever, and the last part sees them within a skilful minute or two, becoming everycouple. Everyfamily. And it moves the heart. Which, given how much we have been laughing,  is a clear win. ​​​

​Oldvictheatre.com.  To 29 Oct

​Rating. Four

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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