Review Roundup: LUNGS at the Old Vic - What Did the Critics Think?

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Review Roundup: LUNGS at the Old Vic - What Did the Critics Think?

Duncan MacMillan's Lungs is directed by Matthew Warchus and stars Claire Foy and Matt Smith. The show began previews on 14 October.

The ice caps are melting, there's overpopulation, political unrest; everything's going to hell in a handcart - why on earth would someone bring a baby into this world?

Directed by Matthew Warchus, Claire Foy and Matt Smith make their Old Vic debuts in Duncan MacMillan's hilarious emotional rollercoaster of a play, as a couple wrestle with our planet's biggest dilemmas.

Let's see what the critics are saying...


Arifa Akbar, The Guardian: Scenes cut away and change seamlessly so that day turns to night within seconds, a row turns into a sex scene, a breakup into a reunion. Foy and Smith manage the switches of mood and tone with a virtuosity that verges on ostentatious, and there are very few off-moments in pace. It is only the last sequence, in which times speeds up and characters, present and imagined, grow up, age or die within seconds, which feels rushed, gimmicky and riddled with cliche.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: The play tails off into a perfunctory epilogue that brings the couple's story to a conclusion. Again, it doesn't matter. Those lucky enough to secure a ticket to Lungs can revel in an acting masterclass from a perfect stage partnership.

Sarah Crompton, What's On Stage: There couldn't be a more timely play than Lungs, yet it was written ten years ago. Duncan MacMillan's two-hander is a clever, darting thing, and in the hands of Claire Foy and Matt Smith - reunited for the first time since they played the Queen and Prince Philip in The Crown - it is a bit of a wonder.

Tim Bano, The Stage: Even if Macmillan's play gets a bit irritating in its iterations of liberal, middle-class hand-wringing, there are many, many killer lines and, in its entirety, Lungs is a thrilling meeting of head and heart.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: Both actors cope brilliantly with the technical and tonal challenges, although the scripted-sounded nature of their verbal emissions can irk and the characters are more like talking predicaments than fully rounded personae. Foy shines brightest, her thinking aloud exhilarating in its runaway force. Smith - seemingly unaged since his Dr Who prime, flexing action-man limbs, even performing press-ups - is good at glinting tenderness, ardency and sheepishness (there are philandering parallels to Philip). I'd love to see him tackle Hamlet before it's too late, but "to breed or not to breed" is a question that couldn't be more timely in this era of XR-led doomsdayism. Go, but maybe plant a tree by way of damage-limitation afterwards.

Chris Omaweng, LondonTheatre1: Foy and Smith are perfectly cast - not even having seen a single episode of the Netflix series The Crown I can nonetheless see why they are held in such high regard by their many fans and followers. With only minimal sound effects throughout, the audience is engaged and captivated in their story and the decision-making processes involved as they consider whether their futures on both a global and personal level. Foy's character is strangely loveable, in that she rarely stops talking, constantly relating her own circumstances (or potential future circumstances) to the world at large. Almost any other motormouth would be at least a little irritating eventually. Not her. Smith, too, is compelling, displaying an equally varied range of emotions from euphoria to despair and practically everything in between.

Thomas Shaw, Go Tech Daily: Foy and Smith perform this two-handed after sharpening their chemistry in Netflix series The Crown, and it is a feat that they are not determined by those roles. These characters are immediately convincing as a trendy young couple arguing in an Ikea row: she is a PhD student in dungarees and rolled up shirt sleeves, he is a new man in Nike trainers and nods to her pursuit. Their rat-a-tat repartee of the early scenes is sharp and funny, but also hectic, and the drama gathers forces while it slows down and introduces silence.

Demetrios Matheou, The Hollywood Reporter: Director Matthew Warchus and designer Rob Howell employ a monochromatic, minimalistic approach that draws all attention to the performers. The Old Vic stage is almost bare, save for two mounds of rock and sea glass propping up two of the gridded floor panels as seats. Fetchingly dressed in casual gray, Foy and Smith move the story across locations and through time, with a simple about-turn or a dip of the shoulders.

Rosemary Waugh, Exeunt Magazine: There's no magic formula to Duncan Macmillan's play about M and W, but there is, somehow, one hell of a lot of magic. Strictly speaking, it's a pretty simple piece about typical people doing typical things (a bit like Sally Rooney's aptly-titled novel Normal People). Format-wise, it can't lay any strong claim towards excessive originality - it's structured as one long back-and-forth between the two characters who interrupt, overlap and second-guess each other.

John Nathan, Metro: It would be unfair to say that either one of these two fine performances is better than the other. But against Smith's darker, more deadpan half of the relationship, there is something miraculous about Foy's ability to summon the conflict of having a child in a world so overpopulated that it may be the last thing it needs.

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut: They're a big draw, and funnily enough are not so different from their recent screen roles. Not because there's any RP going on. But because, broadly speaking, he's the laid-back, slightly caddish one, content to go with the flow; and she's the more uptight, more traumatised one who must least the way. Warchus's revival is broader and more sitcommy than previous, more experimental productions of the play. The humour, in particular, succumbs to a few more cliches, leans a little too much on hoary truisms about the differences between men and women. But it also has more emotional weight.

David Benedict, Variety: What makes it engrossing rather than self-indulgent is the lightning speed of both the writing and, thanks to Warchus's surgical precision of pacing, the acting. What this most defiantly is not is a debate play. This is not an evening of issues, unpacked with reasoned arguments. Macmillan's scenes - some one line long - often make David Mamet look long-winded. There is no unnecessary preamble, no scene-setting. Every ounce of fat has been trimmed away and cut to the marrow.

Sam Marlowe, The Arts Desk: There's a level of skill and intelligence to its fraught, circuitous exchanges that hints at the dazzling writer Macmillan has become. Despite fine performances from its two stars in a neat, deft production by Matthew Warchus, however, it's a bland, self-regarding affair that feels decidedly longer than its 80-minute duration. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion may be keeping environmental issues in the headlines, but a similar sense of urgency is scarce here: beneath a faint greenwash of larger ideas, the piece is far more preoccupied with domestic politics. And like a mewling infant yet to cut its milk teeth, it lacks bite.

John Yap, London Box Office: Matthew Warchus's economic direction of MacMillan's 7 years old "new" play is clear, clean and compelling. The simple open set by Rob Howell is perfect for all the different locations and time span. Overall, however, an interesting 60 minute play about the minutiae of relationships is hindered by the injection of an extra 30 minutes of dialogue about environmental issues which adds very little.

Jonathan Marshall, The Upcoming: Lungs is the hottest ticket in town, and theatregoers will not be disappointed by the exceptional performances of Foy and Smith, but it is also a well-written and engaging play that has a great deal to say about the times in which we live.

Will Longman, London Theatre: 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.

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