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Like giving birth to the Eiffel Tower

An Edinburgh Fringe hit that pounds you in the solar plexus

Lucy Farmer | August 19th 2014

The Edinburgh Fringe always offers one-man shows and two-handers in pop-up spaces so intimate that you can see a tear fall down an actor's face or the white knuckles of a clenched fist. “Lungs”, a play about a thirty-something couple deciding whether to have a baby, is one such show: the production may be small, but its theme is big.

In a world of overpopulation, climate change and political unrest, should we have as many kids as we want—or even any at all? For our recent Big Question, we asked six writers: how many children should we have? Duncan Macmillan's play asks, does anyone really think about these things—seriously?

As they worry away at the decision, the couple (played by Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis) veer between neurotic ramblings and ping-pong dialogue. In this high-adrenaline atmosphere, the laughs (for the audience) are many. “It's like you've punched me in the face and asked me a maths question”, she exclaims. Later, he reflects, “If you really thought about it, you would never do it.” Macmillan's script is smart, savage and contemporary. If they recycle, give to charity, read difficult books, watch subtitled films and plant a forest—would that assuage their guilt about bringing a human into the world? The carbon footprint of a child is equal to 10,000 tonnes of CO2. “That's the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I would be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower!”

As the play progresses, their lives go into free fall—it's a turbulent ride. They agonise over sex, miscarriage, adoption, disability, infidelity. You can see tears in their eyes, but only if you can blink through your own. It may be an exaggerated version of every couple's shared concerns and private fears, but its honesty pounds you in the solar plexus. The big question only gets bigger when squeezed into a small space and magnified by a couple's troubled relationship. This is intimate theatre at its best.

Lungs Summerhall, Edinburgh, until August 24th

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