They’re separated by a two-metre stick but their chemistry is as strong as ever. The Crown stars on their socially-distanced take on Lungs; lockdown diets and naked drawings.
Claire Foy and Matt Smith are describing the odd experience of rehearsing a play while a stage manager holds a two-metre stick between them. The pair are preparing for a second run of Lungs, an intimate two-hander about the travails of modern coupledom that was first staged last year at the Old Vic in London. Their characters fought, made up and slept together on stage. This time, however, they won’t even be able to get within hand-holding distance of each other.
The stick is there to ensure that physical distance remains at all times in accordance with lockdown rules, Foy explains, adding that the stage manager, Maria Gibbons, beats them apart with it. Smith reminds her that the guidance for distancing has “just been reduced to one metre, so snap her stick in half!”
The two actors have a Tigger-ish enthusiasm in their conversational to-and-fro, even on a Zoom call at the end of a day of rehearsals. They first met six years ago on the set of Netflix hit The Crown. Foy had already got the part of young Elizabeth II and was in the room when Smith came in for his screen test. “She was very generous,” he says, “and there was something that worked about it.” They proved to have a remarkable chemistry and it is clear from their exuberant banter now that they spark just as well off-camera. They joke, tease and even finish each other’s sentences.
“We’re friends,” says Foy, “and after The Crown we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we did something together again?’ I didn’t know if anyone would let us and then we independently read this play and went, ‘Shall we just do it?’”
Lungs centres on a well-meaning, if smug, middle-class couple who talk about saving the planet and debate whether to have a baby or not. This production, performed in the theatre’s empty auditorium and filmed on Zoom, is live-streaming to audiences, to raise money for the Old Vic, which has been dark for over three-months and is in a precarious financial situation. This is the first in a new series of shows from the theatre, made to earn some income in lockdown. Matthew Warchus, the theatre’s artistic director and this show’s director, is also a seasoned film-maker, Foy points out, so he is doing some “very, very clever things into camera”.