by Caryl Churchill
The Lyttelton, the National Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX to 23 June 2019.
7.30pm. Mat 2.15pm – in rep, check dates with box office.
Runs 2hr30 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 74512 3333
Review: William Russell 5 April.
Lavish production of celebrated play
The Lyttelton is arguably the worst of the National Theatre’s houses, more cinema auditorium than theatre. The stage is far too large for this particular play which is swallowed up in a series of sprawling sets. Things are not helped by the fact that quite a lot of the action consists of scenes between just two people, and the less than ideal acoustics also defeated some of the cast. The words do not come across.
Set in the 1980s Top Girls, one of Caryl Churchill’s most celebrated and daring plays, deals with what it is to be a career woman and the price women pay, although, given that things have changed since it was written in 1982, some of it is arguably a little dated. The battle, however, is still raging and much of the argument hits home even if women at the top are no longer the rarity they were then.
The play opens with Marlene (Katherine Kingsley), newly appointed boss of Top Girls agency, holding a party to celebrate her appointment – the guests are famous women from the past who all get gloriously drunk as they fight old battles. It is witty and enlightening. Then we move to the story of Marlene, her downtrodden sister Joyce (Lucy Black) who lives with an unhappy daughter Angie (Liv Hill) in comparative poverty somewhere in the country, existing on four cleaning jobs a day. The performances are all good, but, as is the National way, everything in Lyndsey Turner’s production has been blown up beyond necessity. In previous productions the women at the party play other roles in the latter story. Here new actors appear which takes some of the edge away from Churchill’s conception even if providing work for more female actors.
There are some chilling moments, notably when Mrs Kidd (Roisin Rae),the wife of the man passed over for the top job, turns up to confront the elegant, blonde and utterly in control Marlene, arguing that he is a man, has children, needed the promotion and she should stand down. The scenes between the sisters show the price that women pay for the choices they make, one opting for a career and escape, the other marriage to a man who has left her, and there is that unhappy, conflicted daughter, who, of course, turns out to belong to Marlene. It is a terrific play still, but this revival, while decently enough done, manages to fluff the whole thing. Top Girls remains worth seeing, but is not quite, in this staging at least, the essential theatre experience it once was. I saw the play in preview a couple of nights before press night but nothing appears to have changed to change my mind.
Marlene: Katherine Kingsley.
Waitress: Ebony Jonelle.
Isabella Bird: Siobhan Redmond.
Lady Nijo: Wendy Kweh.
Dull Gret: Ashley McGuire.
Pope Joan: Amanda Lawrence.
Patient Griselda: Lucy Ellinson.
Angie: Liv Hill.
Joyce: Lucy Black.
Nell: Nadia Williams.
Win: Charlotte Lucas.
Jeanine: Naomi Yang.
Louise: Amanda Hadingue.
Mrs Kidd: Roisin Rae.
Shona: Jessica Brindle.
Ensemble: Marcia Lecky, Kate Tydman.
Director: :yndsey Turner.
Set Designer: Ian MacNeil.
Costume Designer: Merle Hensel.
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles.
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt.
Composer: Cassie Kinoshi.
Dialect Coach: Majella Hurley.
Company Voice Work: Simon Money.
Production Photographs: Johan Persson.