Friday, 12 February 2016

Lungs, Feb 11, 2016 ****

By Duncan Macmillan, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Fairfax Studio, Art Centre Melbourne, until March 19, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 11, 2016

 Kate Atkinson, Bert LaBonté, Pic Jeff Busby 
Relationships between couples can be sufficiently fraught even without the added stress of making decisions about the wisdom or ethical considerations of bringing a child into an over-populated and polluted world.

In Duncan Macmillan’s play, Lungs, we witness an apparently secure, loving couple (Kate Atkinson, Bert LaBonté) confronting their various hopes and fears about conceiving and bearing, let alone raising a child.

When the man (LaBonté) tentatively raises the idea of a baby, his partner (Atkinson) firstly questions the appropriateness of starting this conversation in IKEA, then pours out her suppressed anxieties and ethical dilemmas about putting more children on the planet.

As this smart, modern, hipster couple, Atkinson and LaBonté (two of my favourite Australian actors) are simultaneously adorable and annoying, hilarious and tragic, believable and impassioned.

They deliver Macmillan’s whip-smart, rapid-fire dialogue with impeccable comic and dramatic timing, commitment and an intense connection and collaboration as the couple.

As the highly educated, nervy and maddening woman, Atkinson vibrates with electric energy as she yammers anxiously and unremittingly, leaving LaBonté’s quieter, more circumspect, slower-reacting partner unable to interject, make his point or even think straight while she rants.

Macmillan’s narrative comprises consecutive episodes over months as the couple wrestles with issues of morality, justice, eco-politics and love while reassuring themselves that they are ‘good people’ who recycle, read books and don’t use plastic bags.

Clare Watson’s imaginative direction focuses on the interaction between these two compelling characters and their fracturing relationship and her production maintains a cracking pace. The abstracted, theatrical style of performance dislocates the dialogue, removing it from naturalism.
  Kate Atkinson, Bert LaBonté, Pic Jeff Busby
Andrew Bailey’s set design, an intrinsic component of the production, replicates a compact, white, IKEA-like room that is a metaphor for the upheaval in the couple’s lives.

Upstage, the room slowly revolves 360 degrees over 90 minutes while the two continue their passionate arguments with no acknowledgement of the chaos behind them as chairs slide across the floor and books, lamps and videos tumble from cupboards.

This ingenious device is effective and remarkable for the first half but, once its point is made, the clatter of objects falling from shelves becomes a distraction and the revolving room outstays its welcome.

The final episodes of the pair’s story are told in swift, single line snapshots that Watson defines by lighting changes (Richard Vabre), but these need sharper definition and separation to clarify the passing of time and mood change.

Lungs is an engrossing, moving and funny production with a deftly crafted script by an accomplished playwright and assured performances by two charming actors.

By Kate Herbert 

Cast Kate Atkinson and Bert LaBonté

Director Clare Watson

Set Designer Andrew Bailey

Costume designer Kate Davis

Lighting designer Richard Vabre

Composer & Sound designer Russell Goldsmith
 Kate Atkinson, Bert LaBonté, Pic Jeff Busby

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