A huge hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and in the West End, in this new production, Liz Lochhead's Perfect Days' has been transplanted from Glasgow to Manchester, with the dialect and some of the local references reworked to maximise regional audiences' understanding.
With humour and heartache in just the right measure, and a dash of surprise in the neat twist at the end, Perfect Days is a poignant romantic comedy. Lochhead plumbs the familiar contemporary dilemma - can an ambitious single woman really have it all? - to moving effect while also testing the ties of parental love, romantic love and friendship.
Glamorous and feisty Barbs Marshall seems to have the perfect life. She's a celebrity hairdresser with a trendy loft apartment in the city centre, a wardrobe full of designer labels, her own spot on morning television, and loyal if eccentric set of friends and family. But it just isn't enough. Unattached and unhappy, with her biological clock fast approaching midnight, what Barbs really wants is a baby. Trouble is there's no suitable father around. Her estranged husband has a new girlfriend, other boyfriends last about as long as the latest fad hairstyle and the only available male is her gay crimper mate. The race for suitable sperm is on.
The play, particularly in the first half, rests heavily on the actress cast as Barbs, who appears in every scene with one or other of the characters. Here that challenge falls to the gorgeous Race Davies (aka Jackie Owen in Eastenders) and she does a superb job, injecting the role with an infectiously sexy sparkiness.
Also brilliant are the other main women in Barbs' life - Joanna Bacon as best friend Alice and Janet Henfrey as working class mum Sadie, who comes to clean Barbs' flat because she disapproves of her daughter's cleaner. Sadie, a single mum herself having been widowed at the age of 30, can't understand Barbs' desperation for a baby and their differences of opinion highlight some interesting aspects to relationships between the generations.
The male characters too, though often bewildered by Barbs' anguish, are sensitive and supportive. Danny Edwards as gay Brendan is hilarious and an excellent foil for Davies.
Designer Judith Croft's tasteful set of Barbs' apartment is complemented by co-ordinating costumes and subtle lighting changes (care of Nick Richings), and the story is helped swiftly along with a soundtrack of well-known songs from Annie Lennox to Dr Hook with a dash of Lovin' Spoonful.
All-round, this is a classy and sophisticated production of a great modern play. It's interesting to note director Roger Haines's initial concerns that the 'mancunianising' of the script might have a negative impact. He need not have worried - Lochhead's writing is strong enough to withstand any such adaptations. Birth, death, friendship, love and loss are not regional, they affect us all.
- reviewed by Val Bennion (at Manchester's Library Theatre