by Caryl Churchill.

Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 13 October 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm.
Audio-described 13 Oct 2pm
Captioned 10 Oct.
Runs 1hr 50min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 September.

A play that risks all to tell what’s important.
It’s the sign of a dramatist with not much to say that they try to find new ways of formatting their plays. Soviet critics attacked it as ‘formalism’ and they had a point. Or, it’s a sign of the unusual intelligence and instinctive dramatic thinking of Caryl Churchill – dramatic form expressing content in the only ay it can fully be expressed.

One sign of the quality of her formal ideas is their economy – there’s no simpler way of making the point so forcefully. Another is tone – not only is the shape the best container for the material, it also creates the appropriate mood. Top Girls has a fantastic first act that could be a single-act drama in its own right. It also has two subsequent acts that might make a moderately decent play by themselves; a realistic social story with one or two moments that set a wider frisson thrilling. Put them together and the result’s both a completion of the separate parts, and something quite different.

So it’s unsurprising Churchill takes the kind of risk she’s done in her new play. Here the form is like a themed revue – and asks the question when sketch becomes drama. Or, it’s like a patchwork quilt, with each panel independent but connecting with the others. The connection’s in the title and exemplified in the first short scene (all the scenes are short, some going-on micro) where two lovers are in a lift. One mentions a secret. The other badgers them to tell – until they agree. At which point the other makes out they’re not really asking. The secret’s whispered and once it’s not a secret its identity changes. Life, and the lift, no doubt go on.

Sometimes the information enlightens, sometimes not. Sometimes its reception puts the two at variance – once spoken, differences in attitude protrude.

And always, in the short scenes, nothing develops. No development’s particularly implied. That’s why the play can‘t be in a more conventional dramatic structure. Information informs, but it rarely leads anywhere.

But such miniatures need precision-polishing. James Macdonald’s production and a fine cast ensure that’s provided.

Cast: Nikki Amuka-Bird, Linda Bassett, Scarlett Brookes, Amanda Drew, Laura Elphinstone, Susan Engel, John Heffernan, Joshua James, Paul Jesson, Billy Matthews, Justin Salinger, Amit Shah, Rhashan Stone, Josh Williams, Nell Williams, Sarah Woodward.

Director: James Macdonald.
Designer: Miriam Buether.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Costume: Laura Hopkins.

2012-10-09 15:58:21

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