Centred around a couple questioning their right to have a baby – but in the end scrutinising much wider questions – Lungs is a warts-and-all look at a relationship in all its complexities. And on top of that, it’s got the kind of fast-paced dialogue that would keep Woody Allen on his toes.
The catalyst to it all is a shopping trip to IKEA, when one of the characters – they’re known only as M and W – sparks an existential crisis in the other by suggesting they talk about a baby. The pair take turns to worry about the morality of bringing a child into the world, with a particular concern for the environmental impact of their choice (equivalent to taking a return flight to New York from London every day for seven years, we learn). The questions thus raised spiral out of control for the rest of the show, interwoven with plot as the couple’s dynamic fluctuates, for better and worse.
Strong acting was an absolute must for a piece so dependent on its cast of two, but it was clear early on just how engrossed the audience were by the charismatic performance in front of them: when one is character revealed to have cheated on the other, there was a genuine gasp of betrayal from around me. Not that the situation is black and white; there seems to never be a right answer for the questions the couple so anxiously explore, and that ambiguity is one of the play’s strengths. Some very funny lines keep the dialogue grounded. When the experience of giving birth is summed up as “blood and shit and mess”, it could never be accused of becoming preachy.
There are no frills or gimmicks, or even props – just some pretty intense acting. At times in fact, the characters are exhaustingly neurotic, making the play’s 70-minute running time a potential challenge. The timeframe in which the story is set is a broad one too, which left the end feeling a little rushed. All the same, it still managed to be highly moving and received a standing ovation.
Lungs may be heartfelt romance at points and laugh-out-loud comedy at others, but the term rom-com wouldn’t reflect the depth of this themes. It succeeds thanks to a mixture of the mundane with the profound – from the lofty “this should be beautiful”, to “you’ve got that porno look in your eyes”. Avoiding judgement, it shows that if you think about it long enough, nothing is entirely clear. Altogether, it’s a thoroughly thought-provoking piece.