JOYCE MCMILLAN on PERFECT DAYS at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for The Scotsman 9.6.14.
4 stars ****
IN 1998, when Liz Lochhead’s Perfect Days first appeared at the Traverse, the world was a very different place from the one we inhabit today; less shadowed by global conflict, and perhaps a shade more hopeful. Yet Lochhead’s romantic-comedy-with-a-difference focusses so powerfully on the central dilemma of modern women’s lives – whether to become mothers, and if so with whom, and when – that it remains as timely and well-observed as ever.
So once again, in this new Pitlochry production we meet up with Barbs Marshall, a Glasgow celebrity hairdresser just about to celebrate her 39th birthday, and determined – despite the problems surrounding her many relationships with men – that this will be the year when she has a baby. Yet in what gradually emerges as a complex play about the nuances of motherhood, we also meet Barbs’s own mother Sadie who thinks her daughter is mad even to consider the trials of single parenthood, her ex-sister-in-law Alice whose history as a mother turns out to contain a few secrets, her gay friend Brendan who is gradually drawn to the idea of parenthood, and her ex-husband Davie who – like the younger Barbs herself – “never wanted kids”.
In one sense, Liz Carruthers’s Pitlochry production makes something of a hash of this serious and brilliant Glasgow comedy. It treats its ordinary Glasgow characters as a gallery of comic stereotypes, often overplays and mangles the verbal comedy instead of relaxing into the text and letting it speak for itself, traps Barbs in some weirdly ugly and uncomfortable clothes and shoes, toys with a half-hearted update of the text, and inexplicably fades to black for long periods between scenes, all of which are set in Barbs’s loft apartment in the Merchant City.
Yet given a trio of powerful performances from Helen Logan as Barbs, Mairi Morrison as Alice, and a fine Estrid Barton as Sadie – with Scott Armstrong in eloquent support as Brendan – the production succeeds where it matters in getting right to the heart of Lochhead’s play, in its celebration of the sheer complexity and depth of the mother-daughter bond. And despite some early rustling in the audience over the play’s Glasgow accent and “strong” language, by the time we reach the final scene the whole theatre seems touched and enthralled by the sheer force of Lochhead’s understanding that love has arrived in Barbs’s life, precisely because – in one sense – it was there all along.