Theatre review: Perfect Days, Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh

Debbie Whyte (Alice) and Jane Black (Barbs) in Perfect Days
Debbie Whyte (Alice) and Jane Black (Barbs) in Perfect Days
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GAGS and giggles are what this menopausal farce by Liz Lochhead is best known for, but Leitheatre’s production proves it’s the emotional heart of the play that truly makes it worth revisiting.

Perfect Days was written for the Traverse’s 1998 Fringe programme and quickly went on to become a staple part of the repertoire both in and outside of Scotland. The lead role of Barbs, a 39-year-old Glaswegian celebrity hairdresser desperate to have a baby, is one of the few meaty roles for older females in theatre.

And very meaty it is too – Jane Black is onstage for almost the entire length of the play, receiving the other characters as guests in her trendy open plan flat in Merchant City (designed by Stephen Hajducki). This is by no means a problem, as her warm stage presence and likable interpretation of Barbs make her a pleasure to watch.

If Black seems too young for the part, it only adds to the feminist irony at the heart of the play by highlighting the apparently irrational nature of Barbs’ sudden burning desire to have a baby.

In his programme note, director Matt Mason writes that he has “unashamedly gone down the gags, gags, gags line”, but in fact this production has much more success with the quieter moments of the script.

This is most evident in Lee Shedden’s portrayal of Brendan, Barbs’s gay best friend. Shedden seems ill at ease in wry, homosexual mode, but in the less stylised (and less two dimensional) scenes where Brendan reveals his soft underside, Shedden skillfully gets the audience on-side and keeps them there. His final scene with Black is genuinely very emotional.

There are, of course, many funny moments in this production. Deborah Whyte kicks the show off with a particularly funny opening scene, while Alison Kennedy is wonderful as Barbs’s mother.

Her larger-than-life bargain hunting, not to mention her constant nagging, are a high point of the show. But the lasting impression of the whole evening, thanks to Jane Black and Lee Shedden’s nuanced performances, is a poignant one – and this is just as it should be.

* * *

Run ends tomorrow.