Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

23/08/2014 - 13/09/2014

Production Details

“Duncan Macmillan’s distinctive, off-kilter love story is brutally honest, funny, edgy and current. It gives voice to a generation for whom uncertainty is a way of life… bravely written, startlingly structured” – Guardian 

Fortune Theatre’s True Grit Series proved so popular in The Studio last year, the series is back with a blisteringly funny, bleak and redemptive brand new play by award-winning British playwright Duncan Macmillan. 

In a time of global anxiety and political unrest, a young couple contemplate having a child. If they overthink it, they’ll never do it. But if they rush, it could be a disaster. 

This hilarious and touching examination of one couple’s decision begs the question: what will be the first to destruct, the planet or the relationship? 

“I could fly to New York and back every day for seven years and still not leave a carbon footprint as big as if I have a child. Ten thousand tonnes of CO2. That’s the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I’d be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower.” 

Having a baby seems like the right “next step,” but this thinking, caring man and woman are caught in flux as they consider the future of their child against the backdrop of the polar vortex freezing the northern hemisphere, ice caps melting, and carbon footprints expanding.

The telling of their environmental dilemma is stripped right back, brutally exposing the actors. 

Featuring: Claire Dougan (In the Next Room, or the vibrator play) and Todd Emerson (Agent Anna).

Visiting director Stephanie McKellar-Smith says, “Macmillan has stripped Lungs down to the bare essentials – text, movement and actors. The Fortune Studio is ideal to accommodate this sparseness, and it allows the audience to hone right in on the central themes, electric emotion and moment-to-moment reality between the characters.” 

Fortune Theatre’s Artistic Director Lara Macgregor notes, “We’re privileged to be producing Duncan’s play for the first time in New Zealand. The country holds special meaning for him as his grandfather stowed away to NZ when he was a boy and Duncan has wanted to visit the country for some time to discover more about his ancestry. Sadly he won’t be able to attend this production as he is just far too popular now, travelling other parts of the world winning all sorts of awards for his writing.” 

“…It combines hyper-real dialogue with a quirky form that expands and contracts time before our eyes, creating the almost physical sensation of being hurtled towards an uncertain future. The piece’s furious pace lives up to its title, leaving audience, and no doubt actors, feeling the need to pause for breath in a world that does not allow it.” ***** What’s On Stage 

First presented at The Studio Theatre, Washington D.C USA on 28 September, 2011 in a rolling World Première with Paines Plough/Sheffield Crucible. 

Recommended Ages 14+ 

2012 Best New Play Nominee Theatre UK Award 

Production Dates:  23 August – 13 September, 2014
Running Time:  Approx. 80 minutes. NO INTERVAL   
Venue:  Fortune Theatre Studio, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm (no show Monday)
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $34, Adults $42, Senior Citizens $34, Members $32, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $34  
Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 
Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit  

Lunchtime Bites / Thursday, 14 August, 2014 – meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The cast will perform an excerpt from Lungs with an opportunity to win tickets. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Lungs Opening Night / Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 24 August, 2014 – meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Director Stephanie McKellar-Smith for a lively informal chat about Lungs.

Forum / Tuesday, 26 August, 2014 – join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Audio Describe Performance / Sunday, 7 September, 2014 – an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Bookings essential.

A privilege to be part of this intensely personal conversation

Review by Terry MacTavish 24th Aug 2014

“Maybe every generation has felt like it’s living at the end of days, but it seems particularly turbulent now, and there’s nothing quite like considering whether or not to bring another human being into the world, to make you acutely aware how very messed up the world seems right now,” says writer Duncan Macmillan.  

This is the dilemma Lungs is formed around: a couple debates whether to breed or not to breed, when the baby’s carbon footprint will only increase the burden on an earth that struggles to breathe as our gases choke it.  And the future may be so miserable that the coming generation will not forgive us. What though, if the child is the one who saves the world? 

Lara Macgregor’s brilliant initiative of the True Grit series gives us the chance to reflect on terrifying facts surely no one on earth can still ignore: the poisonous effects of our greedy lifestyles.  (Love the current joke: “What if it’s all a big hoax, and we create a better world for nothing?!”)  

But even as I smugly declare I have no children, I realise my brother’s two, with Masters degrees in science, and a passionate commitment to the planet, are miraculously part of the solution.  I may be a trifle partial but anyone can see the earth really needs them. What if my bro had made my choice? So I bring the nephew to see what he will make of Lungs, first apologising politely for the crimes of my generation.

The Fortune Studio is the perfect setting, the audience gathered close enough to the actors to see the sweat. The script directions are clear and stern: bare stage, no scenery, no props, no costume changes, no blackouts between scenes. But designer Peter King can’t help but produce a thing of beauty, and the non-set is lovely to look at.  Where overseas productions have gone for a set like a square boxing ring, King has produced a shimmering ring of light suspended above another gleaming circle on the stage floor, backed by curved mirror panels that reflect and intriguingly distort the actors, who seem to inhabit some shining abstract sculpture.

The characters are named only M and W, presumably for Man and Woman, which would seem to make them representative, but these are clearly defined and flawed individuals: W intelligent, driven and neurotic; M less sure of himself, struggling to understand W, who is freaked out – well, “fucking shocked” actually, deprived of breath – by his suggestion that they should have a baby.  For an intense and compelling 80 minutes, arguments and counter-arguments flash between them in clever, aggressive dialogue like gunfire returned, nearer the speed of thought than of speech, and exhilarating to follow. The nephew is laughing a lot, but nodding agreement too.  Undoubtedly, this slanging match is relevant as well as witty and sophisticated. 

Director Stephanie McKellar-Smith understands to a nicety how to meet the challenges of a two-hander, from the exciting pace (some of those same overseas productions ran at 105 minutes, tut tut) to the creative use of the available space.  Then there is the clever handling of the passage of time, which accelerates breath-takingly. 

Above all, there is the credible relationship established between the two.  Despite their differences, they fit, and show us what is loveable, not about themselves, but about the other, which is much harder to achieve.

As W and M, casually dressed in jeans and hoodies, Claire Dougan and Todd Emerson are exceptionally well cast and assured, plunging into their first performance with supreme confidence, convincing us of their intimacy by subtle loving touching, and by their ability to listen and talk at once.  It feels like a privilege to be part of this intensely personal conversation that goes on and compulsively on, time marked by a simple “Good night”, “Good morning”.

They make us laugh raucously as we recognise universal relationship cock-ups. They speak our own anxieties about our relationships, our lives, and our species’ very existence.  W’s last words have a terrible beauty, recalling the apocalyptic end to The Age of Stupid, with the tiny chilling news bulletin that struck home for me: “New Zealand has closed its borders to Australian refugees”.

We ache for them both, even when they irritate. And irritate they do. So self-centred! Congratulating themselves inanely on recycling plastic bags and patronising locally-owned coffee bars!  Why must they always focus on the consequences to themselves rather than on the cause?  Later, while we devour the extraordinary devastation-themed supper, the nephew remarks shrewdly, thinking of the upcoming elections, “There’s probably more chance of not living that future if we engage with these issues – we have a chance in three or four weeks, haven’t we?”

Perhaps, though, they are waiting for my generation, that did the messing, to heal it.  Don’t hold your breath.  I feel the urge to direct them to be guided by the wisdom of deeper thinkers: try  Its slogan* is “Mo tatou, a mo ka uri a muri ake nei”, which means, dear M and W, “For us and our children after us.”  How splendid to have commercial state-funded theatre produce a play that is funny, touching and smart, while confronting us with this, the greatest challenge of all. 
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*‘Slogan’ is from the Gaelic, ‘sluagh-ghairm’ for ‘battle-cry’. Fill your lungs now: “For our children after us – advance!”


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