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A CurtainUp London Review
The comedy is most entertaining based as it is on the gender swap where Ed asks Lisa why she has forgotten his magazines and whines a lot while Lisa reminds him how hard she has to work as the breadwinner to support a family. It will make you laugh out loud. There is the unforgettable description of The Guardian newspaper as The Daily Mail for hand wringing Liberals! Some of the medical information doesnít work realistically as I donít think anyone is induced before a Caesarian if they know in advance that the only way the baby will be born is by Caesar. As Ed has an artificial womb but not an artificial birth canal, I take issue with the birth process. What Penhall is describing is the gruelling attempt at a natural birth where, after the baby gets into difficulties, an emergency Caesarian under general anaesthetic becomes essential and traumatic. Birth is something most of us donít have the opportunity to practise. It isnít like wall papering, something that we can perfect over time and many of us do not have the dreamed of natural and peaceful birth, minimising trauma for both parent and baby.
In Birthday everything goes wrong, Ed is induced, the operation is delayed because of other emergencies until, with the cord round its neck, Ed and Lisaís baby becomes an emergency of its own. The baby is born after the mauling operation, whisked off to special care and then the doctor breaks the news that the baby has contracted the iatrogenic MRSA superbug and Ed is left with a temperature and a raging stitch infection, something I can personally identify with.
Stephen Mangan is more associated with comedic roles and hapless situations. The audience find it hard to stop laughing at him when potentially tragic events take over. Lisa Dillon plays a straighter role as a very patronising breadwinner with terrible male preconceptions. Llewella Gideon is a stereotypical African midwife and Louise Brealey is a young doctor almost completely out of her depth. As the last few laughs of black comedy die away when the play becomes more serious, there is a paradigm shift from light comedy to painful tragedy. I was left puzzling about who the potential audience is for this play: people who have been through the birth experience who can relate to the drama or would it appeal to people not yet having started families? I am not sure. Should it be compulsory viewing for hospital chief executives? Decidely!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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