Top Girls stirs the imagination

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, New Wolsey Theatre, until February 25

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is not an easy play for either actress or audience but it satisfies the requirement of drama to stir the imagination, to tease and intrigue.

The all-girl cast of seven play sixteen roles, the most demanding of which are in the opening dinner party. Marlene (Caroline Catz) invites six historical women to a restaurant to celebrate her promotion to MD of the Top Girls Employment Agency. It is 1982 and Margaret Thatcher is heralding the age of the go-getter.

Max Stafford-Clark directs the guests to tell their stories in quick-fire dialogue, overlapping chaotically, but every one pivotal and concerned with lost children in one way or another. The first scene of Act 2 is almost a play within a play and if some of the relevance of the 1980s is lost elsewhere, here it is astoundingly modern.

Teenager Angie (brilliantly played by Victoria Gee) is hanging out with her somewhat younger friend Kit (Emmy Sainsbury). They are larking about but Angie talks of killing her mother Joyce (Kirsten Hazel Smith) and she is clearly a confused and recalcitrant young woman. The interaction between the two girls is extraordinary and they portray a dark physicality that screams angst. We find out why later, but it is clear that in spite of her enthusiastic embrace of life Angie is not one of the Thatcher go-getters, nor will she ever be. She has no chance, even though ‘Aunt’ Marlene is a high flier. Kit thinks she is cleverer but she, too, is likely to end up stacking supermarket shelves.

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We see similar hopelessness in the women interviewed by Top Girls Agency. Few of them fit the narrow requirements of the contemporary workplace. Top Girls is not straightforward and benefits from some pre-performance research. This is one to ponder.

Carol Twinch

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