Theatre: Edinburgh 98 - A dilemma taken too lightly

PERFECT DAYS TRAVERSE, EDINBURGH
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ITS RUN at the Traverse sold out within days. In a final neat twist, it has just been optioned by Film Four, having originally been commissioned then rejected as a drama series for BBC Scotland.

Liz Lochhead's Perfect Days has been the Ben Nevis of new writing at this year's festival and it is not hard to see why. The dialogue balances poetic nuances of phrasing against well-timed wit and lewd humour, while its Glasgow setting provides a local flavour for a personal crisis that is increasingly common in Western societies - a single woman's urgent desire to have a baby as she approaches the menopause. Throw in some hummable pop between scenes and the result is such stuff as box-office managers' dreams are made on.

In striving to be the perfect, Zeitgeist comedy, though, Perfect Days falls short of the expectations it sets up. You hardly notice this, so swaddled as everything is in gentle joviality. Barbs, the dissatisfied 38-year-old celebrity television hairdresser makes some highly debatable decisions. She has a secret affair with the handsome long-lost son of a friend, Alice, while she tries to impregnate herself with the sperm donated by her gay best friend, Brendan.

Yet the damage done to these three, when the revelations break, is never really explored: the comic pace slows but does not tail off. Barbs is either forgiven her callousness on the spot, or not long after. "I'll be mother," says Alice, pouring a consolatory pot of tea for everyone and laughing at the aptness of the expression, even though it trivialises the scene.

Perhaps it is too much to ask of this play that it allows its audience to form a moral judgement about a subject usually associated with Daily Mail - style hysteria. It is interesting that the one person who displays a bigoted response, Barb's mother Sadie, is conveniently out of the picture by the time her daughter's chickens come home to roost. The situation Barbs is in may be commonplace, but drama that explores the frictions between the single would-be-at-all-costs mother and those around her is still in its infancy.

It is as if Perfect Days is too infatuated with its heroine to let her dilemmas be scrutinised too carefully: Lochhead apparently wrote Barbs with Siobhan Redmond in mind and the actress infuses the part with a winning vitality and warmth. But it does not connect with the character's cold, clinical behaviour. If only in its punter-friendly frothiness, Perfect Days had not, so to speak, thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Traverse, Edinburgh 0131-228 1404. To 5 Sept; queue for returns one hour before performance

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