Review – Perfect Days

Nov 16 2012 | By More

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Deborah Whyte as Alice and Jane Black as Barbs in Leitheatre's production of Perfect Days, directed by Matt Mason at the Church Hill Theatre, 14-17 November 2012. Photo credit: Marion Donohoe

Alison Kennedy as Sadie (left) and Jane Black as Barbs. Photo credit: Marion Donohoe

Church Hill Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

Liz Lochhead’s delicious comedy of motherhood and friendship gets a solid production from Leitheatre up at the Church Hill Theatre until Saturday.

The text is all there under Matt Mason’s direction as Jane Black takes on the role of Barbs Marshall – a successful Glasgow hair-salon owner and celebrity hairdresser who is fast approaching 40 and beginning to realise that she has completely forgotten to have any children.

The setting is Barbs’ Merchant City flat – nicely realised with a trendy late-nineties minimalism by designer Stephen Hajducki. Here, on her big leather sofas, Barbs begins to come to terms with her need for a child and to resolve some of the conflicts of her relationships.

While this is a potentially hilarious play, of the kind that can leave you gasping for breath, it is not gag-a-minute stuff. The laughs are there, but Lochhead is first of all a poet and, whether she’s writing in verse or flowing Glaswegian patter, the comedy is all in the rhythm and delivery. Not to mention character.

The humour lies in the creation of Barbs as a sharp, driven individual. It’s there in the recognisable archetypes: her put-upon oldest pal from school. Alice; her grumbling, obsessing mother Sadie; her moaning ex-husband Davie; hunky best pal and utterly gay hairdresser Brendan; and the dishy young lad, Grant.

Get these right and the whole play will soar with effortless ease as throwaway observations on designer babies and daytime makeovers couch the more hard-hitting material. Find the larger-than-life archetypes and their depth and interesting nature will follow.

Fail to hit the mark and scenes which should rattle past with vibrant and pulsating joy become the theatrical equivalent of listening to the pub bore.

The sharpness and grit needed to make this shine

Sadly, Mason does not go for pace and vibrancy. Consequently, instead of a celebrity hairdresser to the stars, a feisty, flamboyant character – behind whose facade an inner turmoil can begin to be found – Black starts out with an exhausted, depressed woman.

Buy the script:

Which leaves her with nowhere to go. There is never any glimpse of Barbs Marshall, daytime TV personality. Nor does Deborah Whyte really get past glaikit with her creation of Alice. At least not in the opening scenes.

It takes the arrival of Alison Kennedy as Sadie to begin to inject some life into proceedings. Here, at last, is the sharpness and grit needed to make this shine. Her scenes are easily the best things in a first half which never really achieves the ebullience indicated in the script.

As Brendan, Lee Shedden is certainly camp and endearing, although not quite the narcissistic hairdresser you might expect. Mike Paton doesn’t have a huge amount to work with as Davie, but he certainly needs more depth. James McInnes is hunky and bright-eyed enough to be believable.

If the first half struggles, Act II has a much greater presence. The company feel as if they are in much more familiar territory as the consequences of the opening scenes begin to fall out. Shedden, in particular, begins to come into his own when Brendan is put into a more supportive role. But it is still Kennedy’s Sadie who dominates.

There are laughs enough in the evening. All the punch lines and gags work, its the getting there which doesn’t – and as a consequence every minor observational lapse is noticeable. Leitheatre certainly know the text, they now need to learn their characters.

Run ends Saturday 17 November 2012.
Running time: 2 hrs 35 mins.
Daily, 7.30pm.
Details on Leitheatre website:

Thom Dibdin

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