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Review: Lungs, Old Vic - the 'live' theatre experience and a few thoughts on the play itself (I wasn't blown away)

I never got to see Lungs when it was on stage and I nearly didn't get to see this live online version because of the Old Vic's odd approach to ticketing - charging normal theatre prices for people to sit in their own homes to watch.

Lungs Old Vic on screen

But putting that to one side (I wrote about it here), on the final release of tickets, without expecting to find anything affordable, I managed to snag a £20 ticket.

The Old Vic has tried to inject as much of the live theatre atmosphere into the online experience as possible.

In the run-up to the live performance by Claire Foy and Matt Smith, you hear the hubbub of an audience and the bell that warns people the start is imminent and to take their seats.

It was a nice touch.

The performance itself looks like it's filmed on two cameras so you have the two actors appearing side by side on screen but in different shots.

You only get a sense that they are on the same stage in the occasional wide shot and when one of them walks across the other's shot to take up a new position.

There are moments in the play when the characters, a couple deciding whether they should have a baby, would under normal circumstances be touching and hugging each other and these are done with a sort of forced perspective.

Lack of intimacy

And while social distancing means you have to be inventive, you do feel the lack of intimacy in this production.

At the 'curtain call', the actors position a glass screen between them and kiss through the glass.

That one action, a symbolic reminder of our current predicament carried a huge amount of emotive weight to it. Ironically it was the bit I connected with most.

But I don't think the lack of connection was entirely down to watching a socially distanced performance through my laptop screen, I think the play itself played a part.

The piece, written by Duncan Macmillan explores a couple's relationship as they grapple with whether to have a baby or not - whether it is the right thing to do for the planet, their lives and relationship.

Highly strung character

Claire Foy's character has this tendency to talk really fast, almost a stream of consciousness and comes across as highly-strung, high maintenance and quite frankly a bit annoying.

And it isn't new. I've seen women portrayed this way before and it does feel like you are looking at a woman through a male lens. 

As a result, the sympathy is being shifted onto the man even though Matt Smith's character is far from perfect.

The debate about the population and the environment feels fresh and current and the play also explores other dilemmas around raising children and the impact it has on your life for good and bad.

Modern relationship in spotlight

It is also interesting in its examination of modern metropolitan relationships and how they stand up to specific events and challenges.

But all this was overshadowed by how the woman was portrayed and, with a lack of intimacy between the two, the strength of the relationship felt somewhat diminished.

That should have been the tent pole for the piece.

Would it have been different watching it from a theatre seat? Some aspects yes but others are more intrinsic to the play itself.

I'm glad I got to see it and well done to the Old Vic for bringing live theatre to our living room even if it was done in a way that put up familiar barriers, but Lungs didn't blow me away.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Have you seen Lungs either from a theatre seat or from home? Let me know what you thought.

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