Claire Foy and Matt Smith are to return to the stage in June for a series of “socially distanced performances” of the hit play Lungs. The two-hander is returning to the Old Vic theatre in London, where it had a sellout run in 2019. This time, however, it will be performed to an empty auditorium and streamed to audiences. On stage, Foy and Smith will be observing the two-metre rule to which we have all become accustomed in public. It is the first major initiative of its kind in the UK since the coronavirus pandemic closed theatres in mid-March.
Each performance of Duncan Macmillan’s play will be available for up to 1,000 people to watch online, replicating the theatre’s usual capacity. There will be matinee and evening performances, and although all audience members will have the same view, tickets will be priced from £10–65 with virtual theatre-goers asked to give what they can to help support the theatre.
The Lungs performances are the first in a new series of productions, Old Vic: In Camera, which will also include the streaming of rehearsed play-readings. There will be several performances of Lungs in June, and tickets will be available soon, along with further details of further events in the season. For the London theatre, it is “both an exciting creative experiment and also crucial in igniting the box office now that all our usual channels of revenue have been entirely wiped out”.
The Old Vic – at 202 years old one of London’s oldest theatres – is in a “seriously perilous” financial situation, its artistic director, Matthew Warchus, warned earlier this month. The theatre is a charity and receives no government funding, relying solely on ticket sales, sponsorship and donations. It has some reserve funds, but according to Warchus it is a matter of “a small number of months” before those run out. The theatre is also streaming archive productions, starting with A Monster Calls on 5 June.
Warchus said: “Lockdown hit just as the apocalyptic play Endgame was nearing the end of its Old Vic run. It interrupted the launch of the following beautiful play, 4000 Miles, which explores the metaphorical distances between people. Suddenly everything seems resonant. Lungs, which we were always hoping to revive in London and also in New York, is a dazzlingly funny and deeply moving play about the struggles of sharing, building and making a life in the context of a seemingly doomed world. I’ve no doubt it will resonate in many new ways right now.”
The Big House venue in north London has similarly announced a production with socially distanced actors and is also inviting small numbers of audiences, limited to six for each scene. Its play The Ballad of Corona V, written by David Watson and billed as a “darkly comic response” to the coronavirus crisis, will open in October.