Direction: Dean Hewison (written by Duncan Macmillan)
Circa Theatre; Circa Two (October 23 – November 19)
Duncan Macmillan’s play has been performed internationally but here at Circa it makes its Wellington debut, and it’s the debut too for Hewison as a director of other people’s work. Known for his short and feature film work (as writer/director) here Hewison observes Macmillan’s show notes that the “Man” and “Woman” of Lungs appear in one minimally lit set with no costume changes or props and only light soundscape. This is a conversation between the couple (Aidee Walker and Arthur Meek) and its their shared acting job to not only remember and deliver every line of a dialogue-driven two-hander but to drag the audience along with them, with the words, with their conviction.
Lungs is The Conversation. Life. The hetero couple’s world. And yet Lungs isn’t quite ever a conversation actually. In fact we’re eavesdropping on a series of false-starts; failed
conversations. We start with the play’s big news – this couple is going to discuss having a baby. Theirs is a world of (white) privilege. There’s global warming and poverty in the world, the geopolitical threat of further war/s and every western-world voter seems damned if they do and damned when they don’t. So is this even the world to bring up a child in? There aren’t any other choices – for a world that is. There is the choice to not have a child. Or to adopt. Or to wait – and wait. When will it ever get better? Is having a child the best thing for a relationship – the realisation – or is it the beginning of the end? An end to regular sex and partying – and does that matter? Or is that all that matters because it often felt like it at the time.
Walker and Meek take us through the various worlds of this couple as their war of words escalates. A slight turn or new way of phrasing, a little step toward dancing or a drag of the heel away from it indicates a theatrical jump-cut as the days and weeks and months go by after this initial conversation-starter. And then the years. We’re pulled along by the love of this couple and we’re there – to either pick sides or think about who we’d chuck fruit at – as the love starts to…well not even wane so much as be replaced by the thoughts that have taken over in and around the various preoccupations and distractions. The weight of their world might not be anything other than a very First Wold problem but diagnosing it doesn’t solve it. Just as Neil Young once sang, “just because my problems are meaningless…that don’t make them go away”.
For 70 minutes we hang on every word as expertly delivered by Walker and Meek. These are seasoned actors. We know her from Outrageous Fortune. Him from Hilary Clinton/Young Lover and perhaps we know them both from other things too. But their work here is mesmeric, transporting. They are world class and neither is able to upstage the other. Just as the characters they represent are on the same side even when at war so it is with the actors. They are in this together. So hugely and intuitively. The world outside the theatre stops completely as we’re absorbed into their derailment. The full gamut of emotional indulgence is experienced and there is frequent humour. It’s so keenly observed, so sharply written. But that still means the real skill is in translation – in making this stand up off the page and sing. That is where Hewison and his production crew have been the supporting valve. And where Meek and Walker are encouraged towards their combined and individual virtuoso performances.
Their conversation – split and fluid across the years – is like a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where both protagonists are in fact on the same side. The strength of their love is such that they of course spend just as much time realising that. Or never realising that. Actualising it. The facts from this fiction were never more clear as a stunned first night audience, many moved to tears, shuffled knowingly from the theatre. Many starting – or of course continuing – their own versions of The Conversation.