All credit to this valiant Catalan-language production that brings freshness, focus and depth of character to Duncan Macmillan’s uncompromising play Pulmons (original title Lungs), a contemporary drama about a couple’s decision to have a baby, despite, or perhaps because of, impending environmental disaster.
Macmillan demands that no props, sound or lighting effects, no ‘mime’, scene changes or intervals be used to interrupt the continual dialogue in the play, which spans a period of some 30 years. Director Marilia Samper has been understandably flexible with these rules, placing a bed centre stage provides something to circle around, talk in, jump on, sleep in and have sex on, making it an appropriate focal point for this middle class couple’s relationship.
The austere stage instructions are not the only challenges confronted by the actors, Carlota Olcina and Pau Roca, as Macmillan’s characters are also sketchily drawn. From the text I’d imagine them as students in their 20s, but the nameless ‘woman’ is in her 30s, and studies for a PhD. It seems odd, then, that when her musician boyfriend initially suggests their having a kid in the queue in IKEA, she first needs a brisk walk in the cold to get over the shock and then seems all for it. Despite a lifetime of education, it seems, she’d always imagined herself as a mum! Did she really want a baby? You’re never really sure… Because, if she didn’t, it puts an intriguing spin on her ecological arguments. Macmillan likes to leaves us guessing.
Roca brings much needed profundity and charm to the ‘man’ who, in the text, seems the archetypal passive, rather impractical male; the prop, perhaps, that was otherwise denied us. He responds impulsively yet overthinks everything; has nightmares about global issues yet is unable to empathise with his girlfriend. He cheats, but he can’t seem to help himself! She throws him out, but welcomes him back when he cheats on another. Are we really all so fickle and impulsive? If so, it’s a gloomy prognosis for our planet indeed!
Yet, with the chemistry between them, actors Carlota Olcina and Pau Roca do a brilliant job of making this play believable, teasing the laughs out of 90 minutes of talking. Their spirited performance full of youthful zeal and genuine anxiety is both faithful to the text and builds a convincing story of it. In its probing of and procrastinating around environmental issues, Pulmons shows how we flounder in indecision as the real action grinds forebodingly on off-stage. It seems the only redemptive feature in this dark, ambivalent play is the love between the characters, and happily, this production gives us hope in that.
Pulmons (Lungs) by Duncan Macmillan dir. Marilia Samper
until January 18th
Thanks to Begoña Barrena, and to Adriana Nadal for the photos