Today’s Advent treat is this TV version of Joe Penhall’s Birthday, making it a belated Roger Michell tribute first seen at the Royal Court
“Men can take the pain”
Joe Penhall’s Birthday was first seen onstage at the Royal Court back in 2012 and, in the strange way of these things, was chosen for televisual adaptation as part of Sky Art’s Playhouse Presents… programme in 2015. Roger Michell returned to direct with three-quarters of the original cast, only replacing Lisa Dillon with Anna Maxwell Martin (a mildly interesting decision given that’s his wife…!).
Birthday follows a couple in the final stages of pregnancy. The only thing is it is Ed who is nine months pregnant and Lisa who is pacing the hospital corridors and forgetting to pack the raspberry leaf tea. This is a world where men can have artificial wombs implanted but despite those advances, the often patronising manner that so many pregnant people experience remains very much intact.
And I have to say I think the play stands up pretty well under this treatment. Condensed down to under an hour, it’s a largely light-hearted but still emotionally true piece, which speaks to so much about how concerns around pregnancy are sometimes treated (ie dismissed) by overworked staff and partners at the end of their tether. It’s also subtly interesting on gender roles too.
Mangan is fun as Ed, not quite stoicly bearing the burden of the eye-wincing ways in which men give birth in this world. And Maxwell Martin is a brilliant foil to him, as a partner who has already gone through birth and so not necessarily the most sympathetic ear. And Llewella Gideon and Louise Brealey reprise their medical roles well, with a wry sense of humour about the NHS today.