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Out of Town

Old Vic Live Streams the Electric and Vibrant Lungs

Old Vic Live Streams the Electric and Vibrant Lungs

The two-minute warning bell chimes, telling us to take our seats, and it feels like we have returned home, in a way. We are definitely in a new frontier, a vibrant and determined one that hasn’t encapsulated this feeling since the lockdown began. I’m excited and with much anticipation I opened up my laptop, clicked on the link, and was quickly delivered to The Old Vic‘s Zoom room viewing of Lungs. This intriguing new play is a wonderful re-entry, streaming us into a theatrical world I most dearly miss. It’s a stellar idea, rekindling a live breath-taking performance of a beautifully intimate play with the 202-year-old venue’s theatrical seating as the backdrop. Midway through, tears came to my eyes, and not just because of Duncan Macmillan’s dynamically orchestrated, emotional rollercoaster of a play, which it truly is, but for a whole conceptual tug on my heart, because what we are witnessing and being part of is something that is happening live in a theatre at this very moment, albeit on the other side of the pond, most defiantly in the here and now. It’s not a streamed reading of a play (which have been wonderful and I’m so grateful for them, don’t take this the wrong way), but a full bodied actual performance by two wildly talented actors on a stage giving us something akin to live theatre, a thing that I love dearly, and one that I have witnessed since the theatres started to close back in mid-March.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith in Lungs at The Old Vic.

With minimal staging and accessible only by live-streamed camera work and editing, Lungs is a one of a kind thrill. “Are we good people?” she asks, and the dangerous waters from the melting ice caps rise up threatening against this unmarried couple, played magnificently by the dynamic duo; Claire Foy and Matt Smith, the Queen and Prince of “The Crown“. The love they have for one another vibrates outward, shooting through the airwaves and grabbing hold of our hearts as we sit in our comfortably isolated rooms watching a thing that is happening right now on the London stage of The Old Vic. They are having a conversation, or, should I say, he’s having a conversation, or starting one, that he decided on in the lineup of IKEA. Foy’s character is not ready, nor are we, but we gladly grab hold of the wheel and settle in for a strong well-driven ride.

Matt Smith in the recording of Lungs at The Old Vic.

It’s about having a baby, and the opening of the play, as directed by Matthew Warchus (Broadway’s A Christmas CarolGroundhog Day) is as fucking shocking to her as it is gripping and hilarious to us. Her contradictory magnificence is charged, and the monologue she drives into, about an unraveling of beliefs, is as perfect a piece of theatre as one could hope for. Written with wise swings of assuredness by Macmillan, who gave us the utterly heartwrenching and brilliant People, Places, and Things, the text is almost “sacred, not sacred, but yeah” sacred, as said by the young soon-to-be-maybe-impregnated woman to her confused excited animalistic lover/not husband. Why on earth should we do this, they ponder, almost brilliantly and endlessly, bring a baby into this terribly overpopulated world? We can’t help but layer a few more good reasons on top as we sit in our homes watching a play online during a pandemic with CNN reporting on the (possible) end of civilization as we know it downstairs. And this brilliance was first performed in 2011, way before all this madness had taken over the airwaves.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith in rehearsal of Lungs at The Old Vic.

The performances stalk and pace around one another, keeping a correct social distance from the other that doesn’t, for a minute, detract from the play. It surprisingly, only enhances every inch of their conflicted interactions, adding electricity that jumps across those two meters with ease.  The script digs into the contextual debate on our personal and universal responsibility for saving a planet that seems, at the moment, to be doomed. The couple, struggle and worry about the carbon footprint of a baby (“10,000 tonnes of CO2”) and wring their hands about the state of the world with authentic angst. “We recycle,” they strongly tell themselves over and over again, a theme played out just with different words and scenarios. Their chemistry is undeniable, and the characters find the perfect physical repartee that builds up, step by step, their internalized spark to an emotionally intoxicating level. The idealism and compulsive need to be seen as “good people” radiates from within their very souls, even as they undergo complicated dysfunction and disturbances on the simplistic dual tiled set, designed with specificity by Rob Howell (Broadway’s The Ferryman), who also is responsible for the casually pure costuming.

Matt Smith and Claire Foy.
Matt Smith and Claire Foy performing the live 2019 production of Lungs at The Old Vic. Photograph: Helen Maybanks.

With lighting by Tim Lutkin (Princess of Wales’ Strictly Ballroom, the Musical) and the broadcast sound and video production by Simon Baker & Jay Jones, alongside camera operators Avril Cook & Josh Reeves and production manager Dominic Fraser sitting on stage with the actors, the time spins and accelerates with conflictual alternating ease. Frenetic and sharp, their twirling guilty crisis is current and clear. The power dynamic shifts quickly from sexual politics, domination, and aggression to environmental correctness within one breath. It’s hard to keep attuned to the changing of the wind, and in Foy’s mid-sentence reversals, we see the modern tinge of traditional gender politics turned asunder. We stumble as much as Smith does trying to keep up with her intellectual honesty. It’s the thing he loves the most about her character and the quality that pulls us so easily into their shifting formulations and standoffs.

Matt Smith and Claire Foy in Lungs at The Old Vic.

Warchus’s direction seethes with dynamic energy, pitting them against one another while also throwing them together with such sexual force, but without the physical proximity. Smith finds epic qualities in his paralysis, questioning her wants and needs, without any clues what to hold on to. It’s a traditional argument; tell me what you need, as I can’t read your mind; with the retort, you should know without me telling you, if you really loved me. But the outward contradictions fail brilliantly internal, heaving and sighing as the two gasps deeply for air and survival, trying to hold on to life and intimate connection.

Claire Foy in rehearsal of Lungs at The Old Vic.

The verbal combat stands solidly opposed to one another, six feet apart, even as they speak as if entwined in each other’s arms. The scenes shift time and place seamlessly, and we follow hopelessly and willingly at their whim. The two create a space that is heartbreaking and exciting, and they lead us to the edge of a troubled world that we can’t quite see, but can imagine quite clearly. It has electricity and is imbued in something powerful and dangerous. This is what live theatre is all about, and I couldn’t get enough. It made me weep for these types of moments that we have lost because of COVID19, and excited for their return once theatre itself roars back onto the stage to breathe deeply into its hungry lungs. And in that moment, we all will gladly be whisked away once more.

Matt Smith and Claire Foy in Lungs at The Old Vic.

Click here for more information about upcoming performances. Each performance of LUNGS will be available for up to 1,000 people per night (with some matinees) replicating our usual audience capacity size. Tickets will be priced as they are in our auditorium from £10–£65 and whilst all ‘seats’ offer the same view (from the comfort of your own home), we’re asking audiences to give what they can to help support our theatre in return for access to this totally unique experience. There is also the option to add a further donation on top of this for those who are able to give a little more. – The Old Vic.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith in Lungs at The Old Vic streaming live. Click here for tickets.

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Out of Town

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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