Birthday, Royal Court, London



For the male members of the audience, Joe Penhall’s new play gives a whole new twist to the idea of a buttock-clenching experience. 

Feminist author Gloria Steinem once wrote a piece called “If Men Could Menstruate”, arguing that a process that women are taught to feel ashamed about would automatically become “an enviable, worthy, masculine event” and the subject of competitive boasting:“‘Yeah, man, I’m on the rag’”.   Penhall goes one better than this, positing a near-future world in which, courtesy of artificial wombs, men can choose to play mother and go through the multiple gruesome indignities of pregnancy and labour on their spouse’s behalf

There’s nothing like role-reversal drama for revealing the double standards and injustices that we accept as perfectly natural and the switch at the centre of this often hilarious and provocative play is  wonderfully fertile, so to speak, in that regard.  It’s a tribute to Penhall that you sit there wondering why no one has thought of putting it centre stage (as here in Roger Michell’s very funny and crisply focused production) before.  Familiar as Guy Secretan, the bumptious anaesthetist in TV’s Green Wing, the excellent Stephen Mangan is droll casting as blokey Ed, on all fours in agony, bum in air for inspections (“I’ve been prodded more times than an unripe avocado”) and at the mercy of hormonal mood swings and all-female medical attention (and inattention).  

Ed’s prickly executive wife (Lisa Dillon) was left unable to have any more children after a traumatic labour with their son.  It’s a measure of the play’s even-handedness that she’s shown to be not above pulling rank in a slight dismissiveness of male pregnancy where there are no contractions and it’s a Caesarian delivery. Cue an hilarious sequence where Ed, narked by this, strains grotesquely in satirical mock-contraction mode “I’m locating my inner vagina”.  

Male motherhood is still, we gather, a fairly new possibility and the NHS (at which Penhall takes several swipes) seems to be encouraging it on the half-baked grounds that deliveries are quicker and free up beds.  It struck me that it might have been profitable to have set the play further down the line so that we could see whether the disproportionate power of a complaining male lobby is resulting in an invidious two-tier system. But Birthday is full of joys – including Llewella Gideon’s laid-back seen-it-all black midwife and Louise Brealey’s direct young registrar who cheerfully admits to pitying people with children.  Go.  

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers