Lungs is a play that grips you to the very end and then gets under your skin.
Macmillan instantly hits us over the head with ‘big issue’ as the man and woman (unnamed in both the show and script) discuss climate change, their environmental responsibility and carbon footprint and the ecological threat a child poses to the planet. As the woman says, “I could fly to New York and back every day for seven years and still not leave a carbon footprint as big as if I have a child.” Macmillan certainly doesn’t hesitate to present us with worryingly relevant questions as to how to deal with this impending catastrophe – should we implement a one child policy? Who are the right people to have children? Could eugenics actually be a viable solution? Macmillan gives us no answers and the show is all the better for it, acting as an eerily accurate mirror to ourselves rather than providing a clear-cut point of view. Admittedly, there is a slightly awkward gear-change as the play stops being a debate about society and climate change and starts to become a dissection of a relationship, dealing with people and events rather than ideas. However, with writing this good, one is hardly likely to complain.
In a stroke of genius by Perrin, the action takes place on an empty stage, unrestrained by any attempts at realism: the actors’ costumes remain the same, and instead of demonstrating where they are (whether that be IKEA or in bed), they simply tell us, moving in time with their emotional states and rhythm. It’s a startlingly simple and wonderful trick that means the show never loses its pace and runs without an ounce of fat on it. There is a reason why the moments of silence are so potent: we become so used to the characters thinking out loud, talking like real people with unfinished ideas, interruptions and backtracks, that it’s impossible for us not to identify with them. Macmillan has a perfect ear for how we speak.
Simultaneously side-splitting and gut-wrenching, Lungs is a play that grips you to the very end and then gets under your skin. In mirroring us so perfectly, the couple becomes any couple – who we are, who we were and who we may be – so their struggles become our struggles. We all have questions that need answers, but Macmillan certainly won’t be the one to supply them.