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Review: Birthday - male pregnancy comedy will have you in stitches

Royal Court Theatre, London SW1

    Stephen Mangan and Llewella Gideon in Birthday
    Stephen Mangan and Llewella Gideon in Birthday

    The pregnant male is not a new idea, but in exploring it Joe Penhall has come up with 90 minutes of hilariously emasculating comedy that could leave the men in the audience in a state of post-natal depression.

    Stephen Mangan is the very pregnant Ed who spends most of the play beached on an NHS bed. Lisa Dillon is his career wife Lisa, who takes on the traditionally male role of being both supportive and useless.
    Penhall sets out his stall pretty efficiently. This is a comedy whose main joke is the swapping of gender roles and Mangan brilliantly plays the Guardian-reading metrosexual who discovers there is a price to pay for his progressive attitudes, mainly involving a large African midwife called Joyce (Llewella Gideon) administering treatments by inserting them into his body via an entrance that was designed as an exit.

    Roger Michell’s production handles the medical procedures in the best possible taste. The only flesh we see is Ed’s all-too convincing distended tummy and a disturbingly realistic flash of his hormonally-boosted man-breasts. Still, you are left in no doubt as to what is being done under his blue hospital smock. It was all too much for one couple who walked out.

    The joke inevitably runs out of steam. Penhall turns what is really an extended sketch into a short play by getting serious about the NHS standards. But a comedy that makes men less complacent about the pain of pregnancy is well overdue. It is just surprising that it was written by a man.

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