Even though the play’s premise is implausible – men can now carry and give birth to a child by cesarian section – it does provide a suitable device to explore issues of childbirth from the perspective of both sexes.
The play takes place in a hospital immediately before, during and after the birth of Ed & Lisa’s child. The roles have been reversed, in part because of Lisa’s bad experience with childbirth and in part to accommodate her career. You don’t have to be a parent to recognise the detail of the role reversal as Ed is humiliated, patronised and humoured by his wife and the hospital staff. He’s a man, so of course everything is more painful and less dignified. Playwright Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan as Ed deliver a lot of laughs, some somewhat unfairly at the expense of the NHS and a young doctor and an African nurse in particular. It’s amazing how funny requesting raspberry leaf tea can be!
I suspect men and women will see a different play, but I’ve yet to ask any women so I don’t if that’s true and if so how much. I suspect we’ll have a reversal of the ‘women critics like it more than men’ we had with Last of the Haussmans. For a man, there are moments where you turn your head, squirm, sympathise and clench your buttocks! Both Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan are newish dad’s, so I suspect there’s more than a touch of real experience portrayed on stage – from a man’s perspective.
Though the emotional rollercoaster is occasionally too highly strung and somewhat relentless, Stephen Mangan really does play Ed very well indeed, using every ounce of his exceptional comic talent. It’s hard for anyone to play against that, but Lisa Dillon does well and starts the slow process (in my eyes) of recovering from the career low of Knot of the Heart. There’s fine support from Llewella Gideon and Louise Brealey as nurse and doctor respectively, the targets for much of the anger of both Ed and Lisa.
It was an entertaining and funny 90 minutes, but it was limited in its depth and I suspect I won’t remember it as long as other recent Court hits like Jerusalem, Enron, Clybourne Park and Posh. Mark Thompson’s simple circular set creates a hyper-realistic hospital room that revolves between scenes and opens up for the actual birth to take place at the back and Ed’s prosthetic belly and tits (credited to Paul Hyett) are extraordinarily realistic! Roger Mitchell has staged and paced the show very well.
A good but not great evening. The fact I came out craving fish and chips was purely coincidental……