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Thursday, 20 March 2014 19:40

Toronto Theatre Review: LUNGS, Minimalist Drama an Absolutely Must See Production

Written by
Brendan Gall and Lesley Faulkner Brendan Gall and Lesley Faulkner Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Lungs is a phenomenal piece of theatre in many ways. The script, acting, directing, design and over-all production are way above average.

When a man and his girlfriend (she's completing a PhD, he's a musician) begin a discussion about having children, far more than a simple discussion ensues.

What begins as a couple's intimate conversation soon becomes a far more important discussion, as this minimalist drama follows them through the surprising life-cycle of their relationship. This contemporary, ecologically aware, "with it" couple grapples with questions of family and change, betrayal, optimism, and the future, to name only some of the issues.

In this most literate two-hander, M and W, who are in their thirties, thoughtful, suffering from educated liberal guilt and a little neurotic - are in the check-out line at Ikea when he suggests they have a baby. She's so caught off guard, "It's like you punched me in the face and then asked me a math question" - she's left breathless and very bothered. So, rather than cause a scene, they leave the store empty-handed and thus begins the drama. If you really care about the planet, if you are a "good" person, is it right to have a child?

Lungs was written by British playwright, Duncan Macmillan and here, according to him, is how and why it came to be;

A few things happened recently, he said. I turned 30, I got engaged, I got a mortgage, and I got a proper job (lecturing in Creative Writing at Kingston University). The baby conversation was next, and I'd also been struggling for a long time to find a way to write about some of the bigger issues facing our species. I wanted to write a play that was direct, clear, fast, fun, and most importantly, stylistically pared-back.
I wanted to write something for two really good actors where they could tell a story unmediated by props, scene changes, costume changes, mime, lighting or sound queues, just two bodies in space, letting the audience fill in the gaps. I also felt that the playfulness of the form would help to make some of the more troubling issues more palatable. I wanted the audience to feel as if they were eavesdropping on a very private conversation between two thoughtful, educated, middle-class people who are struggling to do the right thing. For me, drama is about live decision making. There are no secrets, everything pours out of the characters, uncensored, impulsive, raw. Writing Lungs was a way for me to articulate a number of anxieties I was subconsciously having about turning 30, considering parenthood and the state of the world.

For those of you not in your 30's and/or not interested in the issue of whether or not to become parents, this play is more than two people debating whether or not to have children. Macmillan is also very much interested in, "the state of the world."

In fact, Lungs is a superbly structured, taut, 75-minute script that mirrors the anxieties of all concerned, intelligent individuals and resonates across generations as well as internationally.

It unfolds in a seamless series of funny, thought-provoking and, what some might consider, neurotic, but absolutely relevant and brilliant conversations that touch on all the arguments for and against becoming a parent in a world of political turmoil, over-population, terrorism and increasingly insane weather.
"I'm a good person, aren't I? I never leave the water running while I brush my teeth."

"Is it ethical to have a child when you're a car-driving, plastic bag-using, aerosol-spraying person?"
Staging it in a smaller more intimate theatre on a relatively tiny empty stage, with only a background set consisting of simple warmish wood paneling, is highly appropriate for a play that wants the audience to feel as though it's eavesdropping.

The specific choice of absolutely no costume changes, no props and almost no lighting or sound cues, also adds to the honesty and pacing of the production.

The two actors, Brendan Gall and Lesley Faulkner are outstanding, delivering some of the most literate dialogue at clear, articulate, motor-mouth speed and flitting between times, locations and situations with ease.

And the directing by an amazingly sensitive Weyni Mengesha accomplishes a seldom accomplished, superior blending of script, performance and design.

This play and production is not going to appeal to those who are into theatre primarily as entertainment and who are not keen on thought-provoking intellectual discussions. Otherwise, this is an absolutely must-see production.

Tarragon Theatre proudly presents the Toronto premiere of Lungs

Written by: Duncan Macmillan
Directed by: Weyni Mengesha
Starring: Brendan Gall and Lesley Faulkner
Set and Costume Design by: Ken MacKenzie
Lighting Design by: Kimberly Purtell
Sound Design by: Thomas Ryder Payne

Opened March 4 to March 30, 2014
Tarragon Theatre's Extraspace
30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto

Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
with Saturday 2:30pm matinees on March 8, 15 & 22

Tickets range from $21-$53 (including discounts for students, seniors and groups)
AND a Pay-What-You-Can on February 25 at 8pm
- $13 Rush Tickets at the door Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on sale at 1pm) starting March 7 -
For tickets, call Patron Services at 416.531.1827 or visit

Duncan Macmillan is an award-winning British writer and director whose work has been produced in the U.K. and abroad to critical acclaim. Lungs was first produced in a rolling world premiere with Studio Theatre, Washington DC and the Paines Plough / Sheffield Theatres (U.K.) in 2011 and subsequently presented by the National Theatre in 2012 in London where it won Best New Play

Additional Info

  • Review Theatre Name: Tarragon Theatre‚Äôs Extraspace
  • Review Theatre Address: 30 Bridgman Avenue Toronto, ON
  • Review Theatre Opens Date: Monday, 04 March 2013
  • Review Theatre Closes Date: Saturday, 30 March 2013
Last modified on Saturday, 29 March 2014 08:50