• Violet Mackintosh

Lungs in Lockdown

‘If you think that ignorance is bliss, this one probably isn’t for you’



A new take on streaming theatre is about to unfold. Claire Foy and Matt Smith will return to the Old Vic Theatre for several performances of Lungs to an empty auditorium. At least at first glance. There will be up to 1,000 audience members there in spirit, watching from across the country, and potentially the world, tuning in to see this iconic duo perform live art. Something we are not used to nowadays. There can be no ‘Hang on,  I’m just boiling the kettle’ – at 8pm sharp, house lights go down and it’s now or never. Although, in comparison to theatre as we once knew it, this is no means perfect, this is surely a step in the right direction. A nudge further towards the intensity, anticipation and chaos that accompanies a real show, not one filmed B.C. (before corona). I went to see this play back in October and how I wish I could have explained to myself the scarcely believable circumstances in which I would be watching Foy and Smith again.

Tickets (available from today, 10 June 2020) to the livestream range from £20 to £65. And before you ask, no, the cheapest one is not filmed from behind a pillar. They’re all the same film, but elements of the prices are to be viewed as a donation. If you’re thinking of experimenting with this strange new medium and want to worry about global warming instead of a pandemic for a change, read on for what I thought back in October.

If you are thinking of experimenting with this strange new medium and want to worry about global warming instead of a pandemic for a change, read on for what I thought back in October.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith together in a two-person play – an easy winner. But no successful production has ever started with the phrase: ‘What could go wrong?’ The two are stripped back to the bare essentials, exposed in the round on an empty stage, without props, without sound and without any other form of audience entertainment. They do not disappoint. The chemistry between these two is effortless, even without thousands of extras or a multi-million-dollar Netflix budget.


Claire Foy plays a switched-on PhD student who spouts hilarious and hysterical monologues which cover a dozen or so side stories before getting to the point. Her erratic tendencies are balanced by her partner (Matt Smith), a cool-headed music maker. Both characters are credibly developed as individuals and nicely paired, even during heated rows about their relationship and the wider world, excellently written by Duncan Macmillan. We first meet this unnamed couple in an Ikea queue (they are referred to in the script as M and W). This anonymous stance means that they could be anyone, pressuring the audience to see themselves in the same position. After all, that is what theatre is, a blank canvas onto which we can project our own lives.


The main issue tackled is that of the climate crisis and whether having a child is sensible because it’s the worst thing we can do for our CO2 emissions. This play was written in 2011 and the situation has only worsened since, so I can understand Matthew Warchus’ decision to stage this piece. The location also seemed appropriate because I remember fighting my way through Extinction Rebellion protests outside The Old Vic in August 2019.

Every single person in that theatre – even The Crown enthusiasts who were just there to see The Queen sporting some classy dungarees – must have done some serious thinking on the train home. The explored climate issue is almost too topical. Often with revivals, we have to dig deep to find a brief moment that we might learn from, but this is not the case here. Every single person in that theatre, even The Crown enthusiasts who were just there to see The Queen sporting some classy dungarees, must have done some serious thinking on the train home.


This play is almost perfect. It ran straight through with no interval, but this was not noticeable until the last twenty minutes. It was somewhat ruined by the rushed ending where their lives sped up to span the years to death. During those final minutes, you could pick about ten moments where it should have ended. Considering the inconclusive subject matter, there was no need for a rounded up, complete ending. Excluding the last moments, Warchus’s staging is phenomenal, transporting us through M and W’s life without any props or scenery movement. I would be very glad to have an opportunity to see it again.


Only then might it be possible to get to the crux of the bottomless pit of speculations on humanity’s destruction of the environment, and our personal responsibility for the chaos surrounding the whole topic. If you think that ignorance is bliss, this one probably isn’t for you. Those who came for a Crown reunion most likely left with a headache, but at least gained new perspective on everything (and nothing).


Click here to buy tickets to Lungs

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