Right royal on stage reunion: LUKE JONES watches The Crown stars Matt Smith and Claire Foy in Lungs

Right royal on stage reunion: LUKE JONES watches The Crown stars Matt Smith and Claire Foy in Lungs

Lungs (Old Vic, London) 

Rating:

Verdict: TV royalty in emotional meltdown 

My, what a different setting for Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Last seen together on our Netflixes playing Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the tremendously expensive hit The Crown, they play another sparky, fractious couple in Duncan Macmillan’s quirky love story Lungs.

But this time there are no crowns, no corgis, and (thankfully) no prime ministers. Fewer cries of ‘Pheeeeleeep!’, more effs and jeffs. They’ve dressed down, gone casual. I can’t see Her Majesty going in for dungarees.

On Saturday’s opening night, our television royalty drew in a starry crowd – a who’s who of ‘who’s that?’ Marina Litvinenko was at the bar; Louis Theroux in the stalls, whispering throughout.

Charisma: Claire Foy and Matt Smith spark together on stage during the performance at the Old Vic in London

Charisma: Claire Foy and Matt Smith spark together on stage during the performance at the Old Vic in London 

Like The Crown, this revival of Macmillan’s 2011 two-hander is a linear dissection of a young couple’s relationship. Here, though, it swings between growth and destruction: babies, sex, emotional honesty, ‘we used to be fun’, Ikea.

Added to this are more weighty, worldly worries (‘should we have a baby, or will it help kill the planet?’). But somehow it just about manages to avoid being tiresomely preachy.

The play veers from championing the couple’s turmoil to mocking their middle-class woes and ways: ‘We watch subtitled films!’

For 90 minutes, straight through, it’s one, uninterrupted pinball machine of a conversation which zips through scenes – and years – like a bullet train.

Director Matthew Warchus’s genius stroke is to strip the whole thing bare. All interfering noise and plot is gone. It’s just these two, familiar (thanks to the power of The Crown) faces, alone.

No pleasantries, no auxiliary cast, not much scenery to speak of (aside from some solar panels… I know!).

So that what you’re left with is a character study of clarity and intensity. There’s nowhere to hide for Foy and Smith, but that’s OK because they nail it.

Like The Crown, this revival of Macmillan's 2011 two-hander is a linear dissection of a young couple's relationship. Pictured: Foy and Smith on stage during the performance

Like The Crown, this revival of Macmillan’s 2011 two-hander is a linear dissection of a young couple’s relationship. Pictured: Foy and Smith on stage during the performance

Foy is ferociously brilliant. Her character is a nervous storm of jittery energy, chit-chatting at 200rpm, which could be exhausting to watch. But she cuts it with perfect comedic delivery, and the most charming, human warmth.

Matt Smith is Matt Smith (plus ça change) and a more relaxed presence on stage. He mellows her mania. His chill vibe also makes him the perfect straight man for Foy’s witticisms.

He’s very good at portraying a lack of emotional vocabulary, a reticence to indulge in feeling. Time studying the royals well spent, methinks.

TV hit: Foy and Smith in The Crown. The popular Netflix series is a historical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

TV hit: Foy and Smith in The Crown. The popular Netflix series is a historical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Together they are incredibly watchable. When they dive into each other’s arms, the whole Vic swooned. When a plot twist is revealed, with one slip of a word, there were panto gasps from stalls to ceiling.

Frustratingly, both actors were wearing microphones, which you expect from telly folk who’ve never trodden the boards, but not craft-masters like these two.

The production also has a slightly artificial manner. Everything is deliberate and mannered. The dialogue is a constant stream of interruptions – occupational hazard with a two-hander, I know – but each smells slightly overly rehearsed, and often a tiny beat off the mark.

It’s jarring at first, but soon smooths out. And in the end, Foy and Smith win you over with the sheer wattage of their non-energy-saving charisma.

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