Johanna Nutter’s story My Pregnant Brother is about her eagerness to no longer be her family martyr and finally put herself first, whilst trying to deal with the pain that she feels about her brother choosing to live his life as a male but still going through with child-birth. This story makes us wonder what it really means to be human on the inside rather than just a product of our bodies.
With serenity and a large smile, standing on the stage by herself with nothing but chalk and a rocking chair, Nutter tells this life story, with lines that range from being completely poetic to parts where I doubt she even is acting at all.
All the way through, she asks many serious life questions for the audience to consider: “If it makes the person you love happy, should it not make you happy too?”; “Sometimes is it okay to put yourself first?”; “It’s the inside that counts, right?” It is expected that this show will be about her transgender brother, but considering the show is called My Pregnant Brother, her brother is not thoroughly developed at all as a character. His story of transitioning and falling pregnant during the process is simply the basis of why Nutter broke down and what lead her to reconsider her life choices.
In spite of her brother being a rather one-dimensional character and the audience only being told about his transition, heart-break and accidental pregnancy, the topic and struggles that people in the trans community face are rather prominent in this play. However, I do not think Nutter was as sensitive to the topic of being transgender as she could have been. This is down to her putting it across that being a trans man and falling in love with another man is a definite show of the fact that their choice to reassign their gender was a mistake. This is only because her brother did this, regretting his reassignment and attempting to live as a woman again. There were jokes in the story about the issue of gender identity that were in fact achingly funny, though others went too far and should not have been a matter to laugh about. I would expect much more care to be taken with such a sensitive issue.
Forgetting about the sensitivity issues, Nutter had me gripped and overwhelmed in other scenes as her ability to physically portray a painful emotion and move us into that moment of time was stunning. From bringing a baby to life in her arms and putting together a perfect combination of lyrical words to describe the irrevocable love she felt for a child, to using imagery so powerful it felt as if the other characters were physically in the room, she was incredible.
The title of this play is definitely a bit like a tabloid headline: it grabs your attention but pulls you into something that is far from what it originally said. This play is really about one woman’s need for someone to look after her and have them love her back with just as much care, even though it initially seemed to be about her brother.
My Pregnant Brother played at The Soho Theatre until 1 September 2013. For more information and tickets see Soho Theatre’s website.