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INSIGHTS: Adapting LUNGS for radio

Ahead of Sunday night’s BBC Radio 3 broadcast of LUNGS, Duncan Macmillan offers an insight in to the process of adapting the play from stage to radio:

In George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Winston Smith is tortured in Room 101, a place that contains everyone’s worst nightmare. Some people believe it was based on the Committee Room at BBC Broadcasting House where Orwell had worked during the Second World War. I’m currently adapting 1984 for Headlong, and was in the middle of the Room 101 scene when I was invited to come in for a meeting at Broadcasting House.

Unlike Winston, I wasn’t tortured with rats. But I was asked to cut down the swearing in my play ‘Lungs’ which the BBC were about to record for radio broadcast.

“In terms of language, s****, p***, c*** and w***** don’t ring too many alarms. I’m more concerned about words like f***, m*********** and c***.”

I’ve not heard as much swearing in my life as during this meeting about swearing. It was revealed that the f-bomb appears in my play seventy-eight times. I knew this already, oddly, as the play had been reviewed by a theatre-blogging Reverend in Winnipeg who had counted them.

I’d been through this before with the first production in Washington DC where, during rehearsal, I’d managed to cut thirty-two f***s. It’s a generalisation but Americans tend to use the word for emphasis whereas Brits use it for punctuation. There’s no word quite like ‘f***’, no word that has the same function. The characters in Lungs are stressed, they’re thinking out loud, they’re scared and angry and excited. To me, every f*** was justified.

But words have a different power on the radio. When you haven’t got the actor’s body language or facial gestures to help contextualise them, swear words can feel much more abrasive and unnecessary, particularly at the start of a play when the listener hasn’t had a chance to get to know the characters. To my surprise, not only were they not about to strap rats to my face, it became clear that there was no pressure from the BBC to cut the swearing at all. Yes, certain things in language and content require various processes but their priority was always to preserve the integrity of the script and if all the language and content is justifiable, then there’s no problem. The quality of attention from the audience is different on radio than in the theatre. It’s in people’s homes, in their kitchens, living rooms, cars and earphones.

In this new context I found that much of the swearing could be extracted. It took a lot of work but I managed to more than half the f*** count and there aren’t any in the first twenty minutes or so. I sent the revised script to Toby Swift, our producer. He thanked me, then asked if I’d mind restoring some of the eliminated f***s.

On stage Lungs is performed without sets, props, costume changes, lighting changes or sound effects, just two actors. On radio, the listener is already making the sort of imaginative leaps the play asks of the audience in a theatre. So we decided to include a lot of sound in the radio production that wasn’t in the stage version. I broke the script down into fifty-eight scenes and we recorded them separately, with a different acoustic and background sound for each one. We reunited Alistair Cope and Kate O’Flynn from Paines Plough/Sheffield Theatres’ production, Richard Wilson redirected them and Toby did a fantastic job with the production. It was great to get the team back together again, Alistair now a father and Kate taking a few days off from her astonishing performance in Port at the National. They managed to recreate what they did on stage but also bring something brand new to it.

Listening to it in the edit, after all the work cutting the swear words and debating the right form, I think it sounds great. Thank f*** for that.

Duncan Macmillan

LUNGS plays the planet

This Sunday we open our next production of Programme 2013 and it is visiting every living room, bedroom, train, pavement, hotel, gym, laptop, iPad, wireless and car in the UK.

In fact, anyone anywhere in the world with an internet connection (2.4 billion people, or 34.3% of the global population, at the last count) can experience the show.

And it’s on for one night only.

Thanks to BBC Radio 3, our co-production with Sheffield Theatres of Duncan Macmillan’s LUNGS will be broadcast at 20:30 GMT on Sunday 24th March on 90 – 93 FM, online via the BBC Radio 3 website, on the iPlayer Radio App and on DAB digital radio.

As part of their growing collection of stage transfers, BBC Radio 3 recorded Richard Wilson’s production of the play with the original cast Alistair Cope and Kate O’Flynn only a few weeks ago. Thanks to some nifty editing by Richard and Producer Toby Swift, the production is now ready for airing and joins an illustrious canon of stage plays given radio airplay.

So far the production has played in our Roundabout auditorium in both Sheffield and London where a combined total of 2,703 people have seen it. The stage production will soon embark on a national tour as part of our ongoing plans for Roundabout. But in the meantime the studio recording will be available to listen to – for free – on Sunday night and thereafter on iPlayer catch up.

Enjoy the show, planet earth.

LUNGS to broadcast on BBC Radio 3

On Sunday 24th March at 20:30 GMT our co-production with Sheffield Theatres of Duncan Macmillan’s LUNGS will transfer to BBC Radio 3.

The station will broadcast a studio recording of Richard Wilson’s production, starring original cast Alistair Cope and Kate O’Flynn, first seen at Sheffield Theatres in our Roundabout Auditorium in 2011.

Last autumn LUNGS played alongside ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE YOUNG by Nick Payne and THE SOUND OF HEAVY RAIN by Penelope Skinner in the prototype Roundabout Auditorium which we popped up in Shoreditch Town Hall.

Critics raved and audiences swooned at Duncan’s heart-breaking story, Richard’s delicate production and Alistair and Kate’s virtuosic performances.

“Subtle, intelligent environment drama that quietly socks you in the guts.” ★★★★ Time Out

“The most beautiful, quietly shattering play of the year.” ★★★★★ The Sunday Express

Last Sunday, LUNGS won the Offie Award for Best New Play after being shortlisted in the same category at last year’s Theatre Awards UK.

Now, thanks to BBC Radio 3, we’re bringing this breath-taking play direct to your living room.

Make a date now for the broadcast or set a reminder to listen again on catch-up.

Listen live here.

Richard Wilson on BBC Radio London

Here’s LUNGS director Richard Wilson being interviewed by Jeni Barnett about The Roundabout Season, his television career and his next show for our partners Sheffield Theatres, STRAIGHT by DC Moore.

Click on the link below to play the audio file in your default audio player:

Richard Wilson interview with Jeni Barnett on BBC London Radio

Roundabout review round-up

The Roundabout Season is well and truly up and running with LUNGS by Duncan Macmillan, ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE YOUNG by Nick Payne and THE SOUND OF HEAVY RAIN by Penelope Skinner playing in Rep in our beautiful pop-up theatre at Shoreditch Town Hall until 27 October.

Last Tuesday the critics sharpened their pencils and encircled the stage for our press day, and here’s what they had to say:


The Roundabout Auditorium, designed by Lucy Osborne

“Revered touring company Paines Plough has steered clear of London for the past couple of years, but now it’s back… and what a return this is.”
★★★★ Time Out (Print edition only)

“That noble company Paines Plough, de facto national theatre of new writing… sharp and stylish… it works brilliantly.”
The Daily Telegraph

“It’s a terrific idea from increasingly ambitious new writing company Paines Plough… three of our most promising playwrights… a finely tuned ensemble of four actors.”
★★★★ Evening Standard

“Three short, sharp plays; four clever actors; and a travelling wooden theatre… a national tour should brighten many hundreds of lives, young and old.”

“An enticingly intimate space… four remarkable actors.”
The Guardian

“The only place to be yesterday… marks an exciting new development in the history of in-the-round theatres launched by Stephen Joseph in Stoke-on-Trent and then Scarborough 50 years ago.”
Michael Coveney

“Three new works by playwrights at the top of their game…an ingenious in-the-round plywood amphitheatre… make for a vivid and immediate theatre experience.”
★★★★ Exeunt Magazine

“Its enforced intimacy ensures a laser like focus from the rapt 138 strong audience… a superb performance space.”
The Stage

“Three plays, three ambitious but wildly different stories of fractured couples, one impressive auditorium.”
The Times (Paywall)


Maia Alexander and Andrew Sheridan in ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE YOUNG by Nick Payne

“Payne hits his mark… Maia Alexander, making an exceedingly promising stage debut… Clare Lizzimore directs with style.”
★★★★ Evening Standard

“Payne writes with an acute authenticity and the performances of Maia Alexander and Andrew Sheridan are simultaneously violently alive and poignantly delicate… heartbreaking and laugh out loud funny moments.”
★★★★ Exeunt Magazine

“It’s surprising and acute… Maia Alexander and Andrew Sheridan – both excellent.”
The Times (Paywall)

“A poignancy nicely curbed by humour.”
★★★★ Sunday Times

“Payne’s writing remains sympathetic, humane and funny… a serious talent.”
★★★★ Time Out

“This deft and moving triptych is beautifully played.”


Kate O'Flynn and Alistair Cope in LUNGS by Duncan Macmillan

“Subtle, intelligent environment drama that quietly socks you in the guts.”
★★★★ Time Out

“There is greatness in here. Macmillan depicts betrayals big and small with a sometimes stunning, often uncomfortable grasp of the way we love now… Richard Wilson’s superb, propless production .”
The Times (Paywall)

“Go. Lungs is great. One of the best new plays I’ve seen in the last few years.”
Culture Wars

“Kate O’Flynn gives a virtuoso comic performance.”

“A startling pas de deux.”
★★★★ Sunday Times

“Macmillan’s exquisite and highly comic look at love with a debilitating social consciousness…the very funny Alistair Cope.”
British Theatre Guide

“Macmillan’s writing is undeniably on the money.”
★★★★ Exeunt Magazine

“Richard Wilson’s production matches the thrillingly fluid structure of the piece, and Macmillan’s script – all nervy half lines and brittle fragments – is astonishingly assured.”
The Guardian

“Duncan Macmillan soars giddily… Kate O’Flynn beautifully mixes killer comments, beaming smiles and shattering vulnerability.”
★★★★ Evening Standard


Kate O'Flynn and Andrew Sheridan in THE SOUND OF HEAVY RAIN

“Skinner delivers some killer one-liners… Andrew Sheridan gives an outstanding performance.”
★★★★ Exeunt Magazine

“James Grieve’s smoky production… something completely different: a Chandleresque mystery thriller.”

“Beneath its teasing surface, it focuses on the illusions of love and intimacy…like all Skinner’s work, it has a sharp comic edge.”
The Guardian

“James Grieve’s production makes strategic use of smoke, lights and Miles Davis to transform modern London into a noir playground.”
The Times (Paywall)

“Great fun… a hoot.”
★★★★ Time Out (Print edition only)

“Intelligent fun.”
The Daily Telegraph

You can buy tickets for all three Roundabout Season plays here.

LUNGS nominated for Theatre Awards UK

Kate O'Flynn and Alistair Cope in LUNGS

We’re delighted to announce that LUNGS by Duncan Macmillan has been nominated for Best New Play in the Theatre Awards UK (formerly TMA Awards).

Our co-production with Sheffield Theatres, directed by Richard Wilson, is currently playing until 27 October as part of our Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall, starring Alistair Cope and Kate O’Flynn.

LUNGS joins South Downs by David Hare and In The Next Room by Sarah Ruhl on the shortlist for Best New Play, which last year was won by Mike Bartlett’s LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a PP double!

Congratulations to Duncan, and all the nominees. The winners will be announced in a ceremony on 28 October 2012.

Round about the Roundabout

At the midpoint of our rehearsals for the Roundabout season, it would seem that everything is coming in twos.

Two weeks of rehearsals have already gone by, for both our plays One Day When We Were Young by Nick Payne and Lungs by Duncan Macmillan. We are rehearsing in two different rehearsal spaces – Paines Plough HQ and the Jerwood Space – with two directors – Clare Lizzimore and Richard Wilson. Both plays are two handers, in the capable hands of two ladies and two gents, Maia Alexander, Kate O’Flynn, Andrew Sheridan and Alistair Cope. And finally, both stories take place in the twowentieth century.

Nearing the midpoint of a four week rehearsal period, we are coming to a close on rehearsals for the above. Approaches to the text taken in both rooms were brilliantly varied; Clare meticulous with beats and transitive verbs throughout One Day . . , Richard pinpointing moments and working them over and over, tackling Lungs’ overlapping, relentless dialogue with aplomb.

And perhaps the most crucial ‘two’ to consider is the second life both plays have been given. Rather than a lacklustre reblock, both directors have excavated their texts once again. Spurred on by the reworkings given to them by both Nick and Duncan, both casts have found new areas for play as well as re-examining previously accepted truths.

Final runs are taking place over the next couple of days, some with a selected audience, to gauge reactions and up the ante. Choreography and decisions are being consolidated during these final few hours, before the next production begins.

Which is The Sound of Heavy Rain. All three writers have reworked their scripts since their first outings in Sheffield last year, but Penelope Skinner’s in particular has undergone an exciting transformation. With another two week block set aside to play with it, the creatives have their work cut out for them.

So two weeks down and two more to go. Here’s to the next two . . .

30 seconds with…Richard Wilson

With The Roundabout Season London only 7 weeks away, we’re all getting very excited. If like us you can’t wait that long, we have a treat for you.

Theatrical legend Richard Wilson, who is directing LUNGS by Duncan Macmillan for the Roundabout Season, shares his thoughts about directing in the round…

Q:  Have you worked in the round before?

A: Yes I have directed in the round before at the Royal Exchange  and the Royal Court Theatres.

Q: What surprised you the most about working in and creating work for the ROUNDABOUT auditorium?

A: ROUNDABOUT is a very special space once you see it it creates its own boundaries, and once you start to apply them the process becomes very exciting. Having decided on a “ no set, no props” format also added to the production’s style and feeling.

Q: What do you think makes ROUNDABOUT auditorium a different audience experience?

A: What makes the ROUNDABOUT auditorium unique is the way the audience embraces it and enters in to the very marrow of the play with the actors.


If you would like to find out more about The Roundabout Season London or book tickets click here

PP Around the UK in 81 days

As we are in rehearsals for 4 plays, with two set to tech and open next week, plus a 5th play to start rehearsals and a 6th to join in four weeks time – it can be difficult to keep track of who is where!

Enter the joy that is the EXCEL spreadsheet.  This paired with our brilliant intern, Amy, results in the glorious schedule below.

Take a peak to see who is rehearsing what, where and when…

Colour coded and everything!

Of course there is also Claire, Hanna and Amy who are our rocks at number 43 Aldwych during these busy periods.