Birthday

NATALIA MOLINA-HARNO enjoys this unusual play, but is left a little confused by its mixed bag of emotions.

birthday chloe france Corpus Playroom gabriel cagan lili thomas natalia molina-harno nisha emich

Corpus Playroom, 7pm, Tue 26th – Sat 30th November, £6/5

Attracted by the title (which suggests this play is about joy and celebration) and the plot description, (which seemed to imply that there would be some kind of cake), I decided to see Birthday at the Corpus Playroom. In reality, the play has little to do with celebration, or indeed with cake, as it operates, quite gruesomely, on the topic of pregnancy – birthday in the literal sense then. The catch? It’s male pregnancy.

birthday


The story itself is quite simple: in some future world where male pregnancy is apparently possible, a pregnant man and his wife are at a public hospital with average care service waiting for the baby to arrive. The cast is small and, as usual, the informal atmosphere of the Corpus Playroom really helps create an intimacy which, at times, develops into claustrophobia.

Both Gabriel Cagan and Lili Thomas gave sophisticated performances and effectively invoked a sense of middle-aged anguish as well as a believable portrayal of the stress of childbirth. Meanwhile the nurses (Nisha Emich and Chloe France) provided some much needed dark comic relief to the sometimes disturbing aggression played out by the various medical procedures and metallic surgical utensils on-hand.

Lulled into the false sense of security that pregnancy is an ultimately beautiful, miraculous act, I thought to myself, “Well, this should be cute.” In reality, Birthday is something else. An often confusing mix of comedy, horror, relationship drama, medical drama and philosophical debate, it can leave the spectator confused as to its goal.

Undeniably, the concept of pregnancy as a female responsibility and one which would be experienced differently by men (since they are “more resistant to pain” and it “can’t really be that hard”) is an interesting one and the play touches on it, yet sometimes the philosophical discourse on the subject ended up feeling a little forced. Torn between addressing it from a funny or dramatic point of view, there didn’t really seem to be a conclusion on the subject. That said, there is something very relevant about this mixed bag of emotions in the context of the hormone-fuelled instance of giving birth: from the husband’s comically irritated capriciousness as he demands his raspberry leaf tea, to the couple’s discussion of the gory complications of the wife’s experience of giving birth, right down to the final image of marital bliss, which is hard to reconcile with a previous scene in which they hurled insults at each other and threatened divorce.

Ultimately, Birthday is an insightful and enjoyable production. Off the beaten track, it is disturbing and thought-provoking throughout.