Birthday

Tue 26th – Sat 30th November 2013

reviews

Alex Jarvis

at 16:30 on 27th Nov 2013

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Walking into the Corpus Playroom, I was greeted by the sound of calming music and a bored-looking couple sat in a hospital room. The empty minutes, as they ticked by with a disappointingly small crowd trickling in and taking their seats, set the scene for a play which cleverly represented the passage of time as a source of frustration.

As the action got underway, the surrealist tones of the play built to a pitch which seemed not unsustainable or forced but, at first, not so much funny as bizarre. The performance subverted our expectations of the process of childbirth through the reversal of the genders involved, but this was not taken to extremes; although at times of emotional frenzy the stereotypes were perhaps pushed almost too far, this felt natural in the context and Gabriel Cagan’s performance of Ed as he takes on the role of the stereotypical ‘hormonal woman’ seemed human, given the traumatic circumstances, and yet at the same time self-referential and tongue in cheek; whilst not an explicitly feminist play, the patronising of Cagan’s emotional outbursts by three women - his clever and successful wife, a tough northern nurse and doctor who repeatedly calls him ‘my love’ - delightfully subverts the patriarchal norm. “It’s a man’s world, gynaecology”, we are told ironically by Natasha, the competent doctor played by Nisha Emich, whose calm performance provides a welcome ‘palate-cleansing’ effect which prevents the mania of Ed and his wife Lisa, played by Lili Thomas, becoming overwhelming, particularly when the sense of frustration and confusion is ramped up by the almost farcical and at times slapstick appearances of Joyce, played perhaps heavy-handedly (although this worked for the character) by Chloe France.

A sense of schadenfreude provides light relief, with various yet universally painful pseudo-medical procedures performed upon the hapless Ed as they are described to him in medical jargon which clearly makes no sense to him. The character himself asks how he is giving informed consent when he understands nothing of the procedures – which seem to fixate upon anal penetration, perhaps a Freudian symbol of Ed’s emasculation but a gag which became slightly forced towards the end.

This performance merited a much larger crowd than it drew on its opening night, perhaps because of the fact that none of the audience knew quite what to expect. Dark humour as a way of dealing with unease and a loss of control was the order of the day in a play which challenged gender, class, politics and what the concepts of birth and motherhood mean in a changing modern world.

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