Chris Chibnall: Ex-Doctor Who showrunner delivers comedy about giving birthon February 3, 2024 at 1:37 am

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The producer discusses his time on the BBC sci-fi series and his raucous new theatre comedy about giving birth.

Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall in 2018Image source, Getty Images

When former Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall handed back the keys to the Tardis in 2022, he wanted to follow it with something completely different – so he has written a raucous theatre comedy about giving birth.

Chibnall was the man responsible for ITV’s hit drama Broadchurch, then for introducing Jodie Whittaker as the first female star of Doctor Who.

And his four years steering the BBC series as head writer and producer have let him with “incredibly fond memories”.

“We had such a great time making it,” he says.

“I’m so proud of the stories we told and the people we worked with, and of Jodie’s Doctor and the companions and all the writers we brought in and the things we did with the show that were new.

“I really feel super-proud of it.”

Even the viewers’ mixed reactions were “totally fine”.

“We knew that going in,” Chibnall says. “You don’t cast the first female Doctor if you’re thinking you’re going to go in and just do the same as has been done before.”

Laura Main and David Partridge in rehearsals for One Last Push

Image source, Ash Mills

Chibnall’s first project since leaving the sci-fi series represents something of a change.

“Obviously in Doctor Who it’s quite high-stakes storytelling,” he says.

“You’re often saving a planet or a civilisation or a universe. So to go into a different type of storytelling is really nice.”

The stakes in One Last Push, opening at Salisbury Playhouse in Wiltshire this month, remain high, however.

Jen is heavily pregnant and her partner Mark is desperate to make sure her labour goes smoothly.

But with a half-decorated flat in disarray, a birthing pool to figure out, and unexpected visitors, things do not go according to the birth plan.

“The world is a tough place at the moment and I wanted to write a play that was really welcoming, really warm, really funny, and a good old-fashioned night out at the theatre,” Chibnall says.

Chris Chibnall during rehearsals for One Last Push

Image source, Ash Mills

In between his television work, Chibnall has been creating a loose, long-gestating series of stage comedies about life’s landmark moments.

His first full play, 2001’s Kiss Me Like You Mean It, featured a young couple’s first meeting.

In 2014, he staged Worst Wedding Ever.

He is not joking when he says he will “have to do funerals next”.

“These are big, high-stakes, potentially difficult events – but they’re also incredibly emotional,” Chibnall says.

“Once you’ve been through them, you also realise, like all of life, there’s a really funny, comic, ridiculous side of them as well.”

Laura Main on a birthing ball in rehearsals for One Last Push

Image source, Ash Mills

Given how fraught and farcical things become over the course of One Last Push, it is a bit worrying to learn it was inspired by the birth of one of Chibnall’s own sons.

“Not many of the events that happen in the play, you’ll be pleased to hear, happened to us,” he says.

“But we did have a home birth. We had a birth pool. My mother-in-law was with us that night. We had a slightly forgetful midwife. And it was a very happy event – but it happened over the course of one night and there were very funny moments.”

Jen and Mark do not seem to see the funny side as their problems mount up during the play.

Laura Main, who plays Jen, has to act out going through labour as things fall apart around her.

“It’s a super-demanding part,” Chibnall says. “She’s having a baby eight times a week on stage.

“She’s also dealing with multiple props, entrances and exits, a bump, all kinds of paraphernalia – but she’s fantastic.”

Laura Main and Jenny Agutter in Call the Midwife

Main is best known for delivering babies – she has played nurse Shelagh Turner in BBC One’s Call the Midwife series since 2012.

She has also starred in musicals and says singing on stage is not actually very different from screaming in pain during labour.

“Yeah, I have to be able to make those noises twice on a Saturday by the end of the week,” the Scottish actress says.

“Everything has its own set of demands and I will have to think like a bit of a singer and look after my voice, because I’m quite loud.”

Watching other actresses give birth on the set of Call the Midwife has been good preparation, Main says.

“The other job that I’ve done for over a decade, pretending to be a midwife, being exposed to the birth noises and all of that – I haven’t ever given birth myself but that feels bizarrely quite natural,” she says. “I think it’s because it’s something I’ve been up close to a lot.

“I definitely have come with, dare I say it, a wee bit of midwifery knowledge because of pretending to be one. So it certainly helps.”

Rehearsals for One Last Push

Image source, Ash Mills

One Last Push is the Salisbury Playhouse’s first original show since the pandemic. The venue, like many regional producing theatres, has been through a hard time.

The latest accounts for its parent company reveal the last financial year was “extremely difficult from a financial standpoint”.

But Chibnall, a big supporter of the theatre and others like it, was keen to return after staging his last play there a decade ago.

“All of the things that are exciting about this play are written for this venue,” he says.

“It’s a really complicated and technically demanding play. And the reason I can do that is I have total confidence in that team. It’s written for them and for that venue specifically and is ambitious because of that.

“This sort of show is about the audience who come and see it, it’s about people’s ordinary lives, and it’s really important that we keep doing these plays in theatres like this.”

People must “celebrate these theatres that are the real cornerstones and the cultural hearts of their communities, and that are really important”, Chibnall says.

“But if we don’t look after them, they’re going to disappear,” he adds.

Having a hit show on their hands would no doubt help – so the stakes are now even higher.

One Last Push is at Salisbury Playhouse from 15 February to 9 March.

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