Friday, 31 August 2012

Top Girls, MTC, Aug 31, 2012 ***1/2

By Caryl Churchill, Melbourne Theatre Company
Sumner Theatre, MTC, Aug 30 to Sept 29, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls was first staged in 1982, but its central issues of women’s battles for success, or even equality in employment, are frighteningly current.

Jenny Kemp’s production is both playful and moving, and boasts a versatile, compelling cast of seven women playing multiple roles.

When Churchill wrote the play, Maggie Thatcher was in power and British feminists were fighting for rights for the community of women, rather than simply for the individual.

Set in the early 1980s, the play opens with Marlene (Anita Hegh) celebrating her promotion to Managing Director of Top Girls Employment Agency.

Her dinner guests are iconic women from history, and each of this parade of quirky characters depicts a different aspect of women’s struggle with power or powerlessness, oppression by men or avoidance of their control.

The latter scenes are more poignant, when Marlene’s poor background and her relationship with her working class sister, Joyce (Maria Theodorakis), and her daughter, Angie (Eryn Jean Norvill) is revealed when Angie visits Marlene’s office and Marlene returns to their family home.

Although the staging is complex and the structure and mixed styles of the script peculiar, the passionate performances provide its heart.

Hegh is suitably driven and abrasive as Marlene, Theodorakis is sympathetic as bolshy, resentful Joyce and Norvill glows as unpredictable, disturbed and simple Angie.

Margaret Mills’ Isabella Bird is stroppy and fearsome, Sarah Ogden’s Dull Gret is hilariously monosyllabic, Nikki Shiels is luminous as Patient Griselda and as a sassy office gal, and Li-Leng Au is otherworldly as ancient Japanese concubine, Lady Nijo.

Despite its odd mix of styles and the didactic, socio-political dialogue preaching uncomfortably sometimes, the play remains strangely topical after three decades.

By Kate Herbert

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