Reviews: Perfect Days, Pitlochry & The Pokey Hat, Alexandra Park, Glasgow (Sunday Herald)

THEATRE

 

Perfect Days

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Various dates until October 16

 

The Pokey Hat

Seen in Alexandra Park, Glasgow, run ended;

Touring until August 3

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar (national poet) and one of our leading dramatists, has always had a talent for catching us unawares. This is as true of her theatre work – which includes clever, witty and vibrant adaptations of the likes ofEuripidesand Molière as it is of what Carol Ann Duffy (Britain’s poet laureate) calls the “undated freshness” of her poetry.

It’s certainly true of Perfect Days, directed in a fine new production for Pitlochry Festival Theatre by Liz Carruthers. In Lochhead’s much loved romantic comedy, Glaswegian celebrity hair stylist Barbs races against her biological clock in a frenetic attempt to become pregnant through artificial insemination; with a little help from her gay friend, Brendan. Ever since it premiered at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 1998, the play has overturned the expectations of those (myself included) who generally consider the romcom a tired and predictable theatrical genre.

Like all the best comedies, Lochhead’s play has a great deal going on under the surface. Barbs’s ex, Davie (Alan Steele), is still on the scene; her loving and interfering mother, Sadie (Estrid Barton), is never far away; and her pal, Alice (Mairi Morrison), is overjoyed at being reunited with Grant (Ali Watt), the grown-up son she gave up when he was born. In the hands of a lesser writer, the play would seem over-burdened, but Lochhead knits it all together seamlessly.

Helen Logan gives an energetic, perceptive and ultimately moving performance as Barbs. However, it’s hard to imagine her having the comic and emotional impact she has without Scott Armstrong’s hilarious and touching playing of Brendan (this is the actor’s first season at the PFT, and he is a real find for the Perthshire playhouse).

Enjoying strong performances across the cast, and updated for the internet age by Lochhead herself, this production is neatly designed by Frances Collier and directed with a tremendous sense of pace, freedom and precision by Carruthers.

Pace and precision are essentials in The Pokey Hat, the new family show by Glasgow-based children’s theatre company Grinagog, touring as part of the Commonwealth Games Culture 2014 programme. Performed splendidly by Louise Montgomery, Isabelle Joss and Ross Allan from inside an ice cream van, this delightful half-hour show is based upon interviews with people in the east end of Glasgow on the subjects of ice cream and the associated vans and parlours.

Ross Allan in The Pokey Hat. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Ross Allan in The Pokey Hat. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The show’s three stories take us from a Glasgow tenement football incident (which resolves itself in empty “ginger bottles” being exchanged for ice cream); to the ice cream parlour romance between Grandma and clumsy Grampa Giorgio from Barga in Tuscany; and, finally, a trip “doon the watter” to Rothesay.  Each tale is told by way of fast and funny performance and wonderfully appropriate songs; ranging from comic Italian serenade and, that nostalgic favourite, The Day We Went To Rothesay O, to evocative new numbers (including an excellent homage to famous Scots-Italians) courtesy of composer Oliver Searle.

It is remarkable how much director Clare McGarry’s production manages to squeeze into 30 minutes without ever feeling overloaded or badly structured. Everyone will have their own highlights, but, some smashing ice cream-related puns notwithstanding, I enjoyed the exceedingly daft puppet show, entitled Cinderella And The Drapped Cone, in which the actors play the garish puppets.

Opening in Alexandra Park in Glasgow’s east end, to an audience dominated by clearly appreciative local school kids, The Pokey Hat is a beautiful little treat of a show.

Performance dates for Perfect Days can be found at: pitlochry.org.uk.

For tour dates for The Pokey Hat, visit: grinagog.co.uk

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 22, 2013

© Mark Brown

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