In Week 8 LUTG’s Top Girls comes to The Storey Gallery Music Room. I sat down with Director Luke Morgan and actress Aurelia Gage to chat about the show.
Can you tell me a little bit about the play?
Luke: The play is written by Caryl Churchill, it’s an all female play about women’s suffrage across history, across the globe, and how women are affected by very similar problems, and what can arise with them trying to deal with those problems. There’s a very weird scene at the start where all these historical figures come together for a dinner party. So there’s a character called Nijo from Japan, who was an Emperor’s concubine, and she tells her story, then each of the characters tells their own stories. A lot of the characters come from paintings and stories. There’s one of Chaucer’s women from The Canterbury Tales.
Aurelia: It deals with all these famous women throughout history, fictitious or otherwise, that Marlene finds inspiring. Marlene takes segments from each of these women’s stories that she connects with her own personal struggle. She sees her own journey to becoming Managing Director of a new company – the traits that she admires in these women are important to that journey.
How did the production come about? What attracted you to the play?
Luke: I proposed the play at the end of 3rd term. I’m a theatre student and we studied the work of Caryl Churchill. I’ve always been really interested in her work, because she’s been writing now for 40 years and her work progressively changes on what is happening in the world. It’s always changing around what is culturally significant at that time – at the moment she’s writing a play on immigration. For me Top Girls seems the most timeless, because I identify as a feminist and as I read over it, I felt that it is even more significant now. Even though it’s seen as women are becoming more equal in society, there are still a lot of problems to overcome. It was written in the 80’s, just at the end of 2nd feminism which had this focus on white middle class feminism.
Aurelia: I fell in love Marlene, because even though she’s the protagonist, she’s not really the hero of the play. She’s got a lot of faults, she makes a lot of mistakes, it’s all about trying to define what success is – and to her that’s getting a great job and earning lots of money. She comprises herself a lot to get there. Although in the start she comes across as successful and influential woman, as the plays goes on the cracks begin to show.
Luke: Her relationship with her niece and her sister, because she’s ignored them for years and years. Her niece invites her over without the sister’s knowledge, and there’s conflict there. It shows how that relationship has broken down – and how women have to lose things to gain things. Women are seen still in higher roles – but again it’s very similar to Marlene, they have to miss things in their life. They have to choose in their lives between their career and having a family.
How was it been so far being involved with Top Girls? How’s the production been going so far?
Luke: It’s been going really well so far. We’ve had a few problems working around everyone’s schedules. We’ve finished going through the play, now it’s just a case of fine tuning the performance.
Aurelia: I love being part of the show – but what I love about it is what makes it so challenging. The language used by Churchill – it’s very naturalistic in that things that characters say in the play sometimes aren’t picked up because the women in the first scene are constantly trying to talk over each other and outdo each other. All the language gets jumbled up inside itself, by the end of it’s a lot of women shouting at each other.
I think I’ve found it very hard to play a character I don’t necessarily agree with. While it’s a celebration of feminism – it’s also a harsh critique of Western feminism. As an example, in the beginning, Marlene who’s just been given her dream job in a employment agency, she compares herself to Lady Nijo, who was a Buddhist nun. She compares herself to all these incredible women, because she’s got a job at the agency. All these women are extremely westernised. It’s looking at feminism that benefits the individual rather than women collectively. Every woman in the play is trying to get ahead, and doesn’t really care about anyone else. It’s “how can I make myself successful and call it feminism while putting down everyone else”.
How much scope was there to interpret the play?
Luke: There’s a fair leeway. The way Churchill wrote it, it’s fairly defined in what to say, whereas how to say it we’ve been able to take in the direction that we wanted. For a lot of the characters they’ve worked in their own personalities. Especially with the historical figures, while their image is defined there isn’t a lot of substance, so a lot of the girls have gone away and imagined these characters, and brought their own spin to them. They’ve had a fair bit of freedom to put themselves in these characters.
Aurelia: The great thing about Churchill’s writing, aside from all the overlapping, it’s very easy to move past the language. It’s a very detailed exploration of the individual; while you might not agree with everything they do, you understand their decisions. All of Marlene’s decisions dictate the play, and so the script is explored through her own rationality, which makes it very easy to sympathise with her. So I wanted to present her character as very easy to understand the decisions she makes.
Have you been involved in theatre much before?
Aurelia: I’ve dabbled with amateur dramatics, and then didn’t act for 3 years. I came to Lancaster not knowing anything about theatre, found out about LUTG on the day of the auditions, having been out the night before. I think I was still slightly drunk – I auditioned for Psychosis 4:48 it was the perfect play to audition for, still slightly drunk and emotional from the night before, missing home, and they got me to read this depressing monologue. Then I acted in NSFW in 2nd term, and Directed Unit Nine in 3rd term.
Luke: I’ve been involved in theatre, pretty much for as long as I can remember. Since I’ve come to university I’ve been in pretty much every possible show I could have got involved with. I was in West Side Story last year. My first role was in God of Soho in 1st year. I’m hopefully going to stay involved in theatre, and do teacher training next year.