by Caryl Churchill.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 16 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed % Thur, Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min Two intervals.
TICKETS 01243 781 312.
Review: Carole Woddis 30 June.
Less than gripping revival of a gripping play.
Caryl Churchill continues to amaze and has proved herself the most consistently innovative British playwright of the past thirty years. In its time, Top Girls (1982) was a trailblazer.
It wasn’t just its dramatic style – satirical, with overlapping conversations and history mixed with the contemporary. It was also a cauterising analysis of 1980s Thatcherism and her mantra that anyone could make it. She had. So any woman could.
Churchill’s stunning opening scene in which she showed how women’s histories are frequently buried was followed by contrasts with the hard-nosed realities of commercial life in the smart central London office of Marlene, a successful employment agency businesswoman and then the East Anglian backwater of her sister, Joyce, underlining the cost women pay when they do appear to `get on’ and make it in the wider world.
Churchill’s vision was uncomfortably ambivalent then and still rings true today. If ever there was a play, in a so-called `post-feminist’ era that reflects the ongoing difficulties for women expecting to be able to have it all, Top Girls is the one.
Unfortunately this Out of Joint revival by Max Stafford Clark, the original director of Top Girls’ premiere at the Royal Court nearly thirty years ago, is not the production to remind older theatregoers of its glory or convert newer ones.
Churchill’s experimental technique of overlapping conversations sits ill in Chichester’s three-sided Minerva theatre where the richness and detail of a round table dinner party of the five divergent women from different historical periods invited by Marlene, fail to emerge.
Only the redoubtable Stella Gonet (stellar in more ways than one) as Victorian Scottish explorer, Isabella Bird seems able to carry all before her.
There are fine performances from Olivia Poulet as Marlene’s slow-witted daughter Angie being brought up by her sister Joyce and Lisa Kerr as her young friend Shona. But the crucial personal/political debate between Gonet’s Joyce and Suranne Jones’ Marlene is lost in noise and tumult. Political debate becomes mere sibling personal resentment.
Stafford Clark’s original production carried an irrepressible swaggering satire about it. Substituting speed for clarity has done the play little favours.
Pope Joan: Lucy Briers.
Patient Griselda/Nell: Laura Elphinstone.
Isabella Bird/Joyce/Mrs Kidd: Stella Gonet.
Marlene: Suranne Jones.
Waitress/Kit/Shona: Lisa Kerr.
Lady Nijo/Win: Catherine McCormack.
Dull Gret/Jeanine/Angie: Olivia Poulet.
Director: Max Stafford-Clark.
Designer: Tim Shortall.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Music: Ian Dickinson.
Video: Finn Ross.
Dialect Coach: Charmian Hoare.
Assistant director: Tim Hoare.
First performance of this production at the Minverva Theatre, Chichester 23 June.