Perfect Days at the Vaudeville Theatre

Barbs Marshall, the ballsy, carrot-topped heroine of Perfect Days has reached that uneasy stage in her life when a successful job as a TV hairdresser, a wardrobe full of Armani, and slick loft apartment just aren't enough. What she really needs, or so her hormones tell her, is a bouncing, gurgling, thumb-sucking bundle of joy. Problem is, age is against her, and there's no-one to father the sprog. Husband Davie has wandered off to pastures new, boyfriends stick around as long as the latest hairstyles, and the only available male is a queeny snipper by the name of Brendan.

Suddenly the race is on to find some suitable sperm for Barbs, in Liz Lochhead's bitter-sweet comedy. A product of the celebrated Traverse Theatre, it has successful runs at the Edinburgh Festival, and Hampstead Theatre under its belt, due in no small part to the presence of the excellent Siobhan Redmond. Ms Redmond reprises her award-winning role here as the conflicted thirtysomething Glaswegian, and Ann Scott-Jones is back as her eccentric Mum, Sadie.

This pair are in a love-hate relationship, where views clash as loudly as Sadie's garish outfits. Mum can't see the point of her daughter getting pregnant, bewailing the burden of bringing up her own offspring as a single parent. Barbs' friend Alice (Jo Cameron Brown) shares this predicament, having put her own son up for adoption more than two decades previously.

Perfect Days is an appealing, neatly-constructed drama, with moments of farce, poignancy and humour leading to a twist at the end of the tale. Under John Tiffany's direction, and with the aid of John Harris' musical bridges, the scenes flow seamlessly into each other. John Kazek gives an endearing performance as the resourceful Brendan, and the script is studded with witty lines, such as Barbs', 'I don't see how I can be pushing 40 when I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up'.

But there are a few things about Perfect Days that seem less than perfect. The broad Glaswegian accent and local references occasionally left me flummoxed, the lapses into facile sitcom humour grated, Ms Scott Jones is slightly too elegant to be the hard-bitten, working class Sadie, and Nick Lopez makes for a rather wooden Grant, Barbs' toyboy lover.

Overall, I felt Lochhead's play would be more comfortable on the Fringe; in this West End setting where much more is expected of it, Perfect Days doesn't always deliver.

Richard Forrest

Note: The following review dates from Perfect Days' world premiere at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 1998.

Liz Lochhead could teach Bridget Jones a thing or two about being a desperate, thirty-something singleton. Though Jones and Lockhead's character Barbs Marshall find themselves in a similar situation, Marshall displays a feistiness and never-surrender determination that puts Jones' ineptitude and self-deprecation in the shade.

Barbs has got everything going for her. She's a successful career woman, co-owner of the trendiest hairdressing salon in Glasgow and a frequent guest on a daytime TV makeover programme. She's got the loyal and eclectic retinue of friends and family, too - her best mate Brendan, the gay and gorgeous hairdresser; her old pal Alice who grew up with her on the wrong side of the tracks; her estranged husband Davie who is still ready and willing to be her knight in shining armour; and a mother who, although she puts years on you, has her heart in the right place.

But on her 39th birthday, Barbs discovers this isn't enough. She's unattached, unhappy and yearning for an act of God to help her demonstrate her maternal capabilities and give her biological timebomb a rest. What's a girl to do - none of the scores of self-help books she's consulted help at all.

'You are a complete and utter cliché,' declares one of the characters. Well, yes, but at least Barbs and Lochhead know it. And the latter compensates by spinning a lot of good humour and a healthy dose of surprise into the script.

The cast, under John Tiffany's assured direction, also deliver the goods, dishing out comedy and heartache in just the right servings. Siobhan Redmond is a deserving lead, demanding your empathy for Barbs but never your pity.

Together with her supporting players, the binds of love - romantic love, mother love and friendship - are tested and tightened. I'll leave it to your imagination which proves the most enduring.

Terri Paddock