Top Girls Trafalgar Studios 24 August

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This is a play by Caryl Churchill dating from 1982 about the soul of woman under Thatcher.  Naturally enough, about 80% of the audience were female, and they may have appreciated it more than I did.

We started with Marlene, who had just been made Managing Director of an employment agency, hosting a dinner for successful or famous women from history.  That was an interesting idea.  Pope Joan got to make some intelligent remarks, and also attempted to comfort Lady Nijo over the loss of her children, while Isabella Bird had the most to say.  So that was all right, if a little pointless, especially if one was already acquainted with Pope Joan and Patient Griselda.

Then the first scene of Act 2 was about the most cack-handed thing I’ve seen in the professional theatre, and I think that’s largely if not entirely down to the text.  Two adult actresses unconvincingly played girls with unconvincing Norfolk accents and woodenly pushed words at each other to make the points that Angie, Marlene’s niece, was not very bright and not much use for anything and also hated her mother.  Also she and her friend Kit were frightened of unemployment and nuclear war.  Scene 2 showed us life in the employment agency, and interviews with the job applicants had some good comic touches.  Some pretty leaden layers of lecturing as well.  Marlene had beaten out an offstage man to the top job, and he was taking it badly.  Angie turned up looking for bright lights and big city and Marlene concluded she hadn’t a chance.

Act 3 (a year earlier) had Marlene visiting Angie and Joyce.  As Joyce, Stella Gonet did a pretty good Norfolk accent, but I didn’t believe in the interplay between the sisters, and I think you would get more change from Marlene (Susanne Jones), at least in terms of accent.  There were of course disturbing revelations and also a disturbing prophecy about the soul of woman under Thatcher.

To me the first act was written by someone who didn’t appreciate how different and difficult life was in past eras of appalling infant and maternal mortality, while the third act belonged to someone who had very little idea of the lives of ordinary people.  In all:  Brecht without the poetry or the genuine bitterness and cynicism.





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