Lungs by Duncan McMillan  

Where: Theatre on the Bay, Camps, Cape Town
When: February 7-24, 2024
Booking: Webtickets
Performers: Sanda Shandu and Jazzara Jaslyn
Director: Bianco Amato
Design: Patrick Curtis
Producers: The Quickening Theatre company and Gloucester Productions 

Excellent script, performances, design and direction. I loved Duncan McMillan West End hit play Lungs, which on in Cape Town at Theatre on the Bay (February 7-24, 2024). This play surprised and delighted me.  The initial framing is around a man (Sanda Shandu) and a woman (Jazzara Jaslyn) who are contemplating whether to have a baby. Should they remain child free? How must they face up to climate change, conflict and bring a baby into the world? I though that Lungs would be an issue play. It is not. Lungs is a poignant and quirky love story, infused with mirth and satire.

The baby question is the catalyst and trigger for the narrative which tracks the rocky pathway of this couple as they deal with life. Life is complicated. They are complicated. At times, they can’t breathe the air (lungs?). They almost throttle each other trying splice the mess of life together. Sanda Shandu and Jazzara Jaslyn are magic as they circle each other, slip and slide on the slope of life – a ramp. Patrick Curtis’ design is emblematic for me of a slide and a playground and we see the protagonists snarled up in each other’s pain, passion, love.

I read that playwright McMillan wrote the play before he was a father, in the interregnum, on the verge of bringing a child into the world and yes, he was concerned about climate change and the issues of the mad world. [].

I won’t plot spoil. McMillan condenses a lifetime into 90 minutes with a masterful script. The couple are entangled with each other physically and emotionally. This production, superbly directed by Bianca Amato is highly charged physical theatre with the man and woman in constant motion. Jaslyn is like a lioness prowling around her mate, staking out her territory. She is a Duracell bunny, fiddling with her hair and limbs, not sure where to put herself. It is an embrace and a slap that we see throughout; between two bodies in space.

Core to the script is the overlapping and intersecting of dialogue. We see this a lot in contemporary relationship drama-comedies with protagonists talking across each other. In theatre, rapid fire dialogue can result in a mess, with one battling to hear what is being said and/or coming across as choreographed, with a lack of pacing as one person answers before digesting what the other has said. In film, editing is possible but in live theatre it is not. Bianca Amato as director superbly orchestrates and tempers the verbal duelling with the physical thrashing on the stage. I was entranced by the visceral energy between the performances and the excellent nuanced script. It is cerebral and sardonic, infused with comedy and warmth.

McMillan has stated that he wanted the stage to be stripped of props and a “set” and the playground sloping ramp by Patrick Curtis provides a dystopian space for everything to unfurl. Some references have been added to contextualise the narrative in South Africa (for example Checkers) and in Cape Town (De Waal Park) but very subtly so. The accents like the design are stripped back and the bodies of the actors are the primary mode of expression in this outstanding production.

I found this play uplifting and heartening. Here comes a little spoiler, so stop if you don’t want to know. The take- home is that we should not over-think things. The universe is on its own trajectory. We cannot control climate change and what is going on in this very uncertain world. Love and caring is what we have. Breathe through the lack of air, even if it seems to be throttling you. Try not to over-think the details and choices. Sure, there is responsibility, carbon foot prints, ozone levels to consider, but there is also that which binds us as humans. Lungs is a love story, a passion play. Love is complicated but worth embracing, if you are lucky to find a mate.  Lungs is a must-see.

Passion play: Jazzara Jaslyn and Sanda Shandu in Lungs by Duncan McMillan, Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town, February 2024. Claude Barnardo. Supplied.

Photos by Claude Barnardo. Supplied.