Brighton Festival 2015
A couple are deciding their future. Thirty-something, educated and thoughtful, they want to have a child for the right reasons. But in a time of overpopulation, erratic weather and political unrest, what exactly are the right reasons? Extremely witty, sabre-sharp writing, delivered with exceptional finesse, this production will make you laugh, gasp and cry.
Lungs is a relentless 70 minutes that really puts its audience through the emotional wringer, and throws up an enormous amount of challenging questions and interesting insights into how we relate to one another as human beings.
Onstage are a man and a woman played by Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis. From the word go the pace of the dialogue is non-stop. A verbal diarrhoea of thoughts, questions and arguments is flung between the actors, leaving the audience breathless and overwhelmed. At first this struck me as a bit much; too fast, too stylised, and not leaving you with enough time to reflect on what was being said. However, as the pace continued at this level (but skilfully managing not to become monotonous), you began to settle into the rhythm of the piece and actually its un-diminishing speed became part of its power.
What we have at the start of this play is a couple, educated, thoughtful, politically and environmentally aware, debating the merits of having a baby, of bring a new life into an uncertain future, and by doing so contributing in no small way to the ever increasing carbon footprint of the earth. They ask the same questions I have asked myself, and new ones, forcing the audience to uncompromisingly confront the dilemma of procreation.
Whilst the concern about the environment underpins the whole text, and is what is emphasised (I would say to a unhelpful degree) in the publicity material, what is most interesting about the play is the incredibly keenly observed relationship between the two central characters. Duncan Macmillan’s text just gets it, and anyone who has ever been in a relationship will be reassured to see the ebb and flow of lust, love and friendship so acutely represented; you are not mad, you are not bad, other people do these things to each other as well. The apparent impossibility of communicating with someone you deeply love at a time when you are both hurting is painfully well portrayed, as is the agonising fallout from those unseen barriers.
The play was performed in Paines Plough’s Roundabout theatre, a circular geodome that has been erected in Regency Square for the month. It is an intimate space, with nowhere for the audience to hide, and in this production’s case, almost no scope for set or any notable lighting design. So there is a lot of pressure on the performers to carry every moment of the play, and Reese-Williams and Salis rise to that challenge more than adequately. Time and location shifts are firmly marked by markers in the dialogue, but this is achieved naturally, and with time becomes expected and seamless. And whilst some plot elements could be judged to be a little predictable, actually the characterisation and Macmillan’s skilful script prevents any feeling that this is a trite piece of work. Quite the opposite in fact, as I left the theatre reeling, feeling as though I had received several blows to the head, and needed to regroup my thoughts, and probably see the whole thing again the next day.