With Stephen Mangan in the lead, it’s a fair bet that “Birthday”, a new play from Joe Penhall, won’t be a tragedy. Mangan left RADA in the mid-1990s, and has done little but comedy, or comedy-drama, since. Highlights have included the motor-mouthed, sexually inappropriate anaesthetist in Channel 4’s “Green Wing”; the beardy, shambling lead—a “gigolo in a haystack”—in the revived “Norman Conquests”; and a cussing, shagging, strangely endearing divorcé in Channel 4’s “Free Agents”. All three played to his strengths: lechery, which sits comically on his lugubrious, Deputy Dawg features; and windmilling, sharply co-ordinated displays of lack of co-ordination.
But he needs to play big. In the fatally underwritten BBC4 adaptation of Douglas Adams’s “Dirk Gently”, Mangan struggled to find a way into the lead, while his co-star Darren Boyd used his migrant intonations—an actor’s philosopher’s stone—to turn the drossest line into gold.
In “Birthday” Mangan plays a man who gets pregnant at his wife’s request. This bodes well: a husband with a big belly offers scope for both misplaced lubricity and the comedy of discomfort. As long as Penhall has written it large, Mangan should fit. ~ ISABEL LLOYD
Birthday Royal Court, London, June 22nd to August 4th
THEATRE AT A GLANCE
Macbeth (Tramway, Glasgow, June 13th-30th). Alan Cumming takes every part in a production already booked for Broadway. Showbiz showing-off, or a chameleon tour de force? Either way, his Lady Macbeth will be unlike any other.
You Me Bum Bum Train (Canary Wharf, London, June 21st to August 26th). Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd’s exhilarating, immersive experience with a capital E is back, ready, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, to unbind the imaginations of its audience—who are also its stars.
Antigone (Olivier, London, until June 20th). Two years on from “Welcome to Thebes”, a forceful re-imagining of the same story, the Olivier has Sophocles’s original, adapted by Don Taylor. Jodie Whittaker, a fragile but sharp presence, is the proto-feminist heroine, Christopher Eccleston the king she defies.
GATZ (Noel Coward, London, June 8th to July 15th). Be afraid, Baz Luhrmann, be very afraid: finally, a British premiere for this American version of “The Great Gatsby”. Not a play, as such, but an eight-hour (with a break for dinner) enactment of the entire book; one that’s won plaudits around the world.
Boys (Soho, London until June 16th, then touring). Only four years out of university, Ella Hickson already has a fistful of awards. Her plots never look that promising—here, a group of flat-sharing students prepare for real life—but her voice is assured, distinctive and entertaining.