Oon Shu An Contemplates The Quandaries of Parenthood in Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs

We chat with actress Oon Shu An about the dichotomies between life, motherhood and the power of Duncan Macmillan’s witty script for “Lungs”.

Is bringing a child into the world right now, a world that’s struggling with environmental crises, political unrest and general instability the responsible thing to do? That is the question raised in the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) next production “Lungs”, British award-winning playwright Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander.

Set to premiere in Singapore on 19 June 2021 at KC Arts Centre, the play will see a modern-day couple navigate the brutal truths, moral and ethical quandaries of starting a family. Theatre veteran Daniel Jenkins directs Oon Shu An and Joshua Lim in the roles most recently inhabited by The Crown’s Claire Foy and Matt Smith in its London run last year. 

Popspoken: “Lungs” finds a young couple contemplating parenthood in an ever-changing world of uncertainties. Though it was written 10 years ago in 2011, it seems just as relevant now as we navigate this pandemic. How much of your character’s worries and neuroses mirror your own, and what are your personal views on having a child in the midst of a climate crisis?

Shu An: It really does feel relevant today, pandemic or even no pandemic! Because the issues they struggle with then and now actually don’t seem to have changed that much, in fact, they’ve kind of gotten worse? Global warming, for example; 2011 was the 9th warmest year since 1880. Globally, 2020 was the hottest year on record. 

I can kind of relate to the existential crisis that she’s having, haha, I think a lot of people will, that’s the beauty of this script! Unlike her, I’ve never had the desire for children though. I have never wanted to have children. But I love watching my friends with theirs, and listening to Dan and Josh talk about their families, and having children, whether stressful or joyful, there’s something beautiful that comes over them when they do! 

The infrastructure to support modern day parenting is lacking. There is no question that women have always had to pick up the slack on this, they are still expected to take on the bulk of the household chores, childcare, caregiving and most of this is unpaid, low paid, unfairly expected of them and on top of that unrecognised as “actual work” even though anyone would be able to see just how much skill it takes to do. This leaves them at a significant disadvantage and without financial security in old age. This is not ok.

For those who are also working, the amount of care work around the house that they are expected to take on stays around the same. And during this pandemic, all these problems have been exacerbated and undermined or even reversed the little progress that had been made up to that point. As a society, we like to do the whole “Wow, mums are superheroes.” Etc. I look at all they have to balance and really, they must be. But they shouldn’t have to be. There needs to be infrastructure in place so that they can just be human, which they are.

Popspoken: What was the key aspect of Duncan Macmillan’s script that drew you to the role? What was going through your mind when you first read it and how did you prepare?

Shu An: The script is a masterpiece. The dialogue is fantastic. Just, so brilliant.

The way in which it explores love, partnership, being human – simply brilliant. After I read it, I was thinking “Thank you Dan for thinking of me!” I also really wanted to work with Dan! And then also “I really really hope I get this part!” When I got it, I was ecstatic, and quite soon after I did have a minor freak-out at the challenge that lay ahead. That’s a rather exciting feeling too.

Sitting down examining which parts of us are similar, where we aren’t, questioning what I understand and don’t, and it also makes me question myself on my feelings about the issues they face. And reading it over and over again because the way some of the dialogue is written, punctuation is almost non-existent, playing around with where the thoughts shift and where the breath comes in was an exercise in and of itself.

Oon Shu An Contemplates The Quandaries of Parenthood in Duncan Macmillan's Lungs main image

Popspoken: What are some of the challenging aspects to tackling a role like this? Will the set design (famously spartan in the London production) help or hinder? 

Shu An: I think they are both an amalgamation of the experiences that are faced by people who find themselves placed in these particular gender roles in a relationship in our society and like the rest of the play, it makes me examine and confront how I view those roles which then affects how I feel about her and how I feel for her and then as her. The set, or lack thereof, is definitely a challenge, but it also opens up a realm of possibilities and doesn’t allow you to hide in the “business/busyness”, so overall, it isn’t easy but I think it would help!

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