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Top Girls is a strange one. Written in 1982 by Caryl Churchill, it focusses on Marlene (played, with her usual brilliance, by Aurelia Gage), a career driven business woman whose life we see is not as successful or fulfilled as she first presents it. The scenes of the play take place over an almost backward chronology, beginning with a long scene which is unquestionably the best of the play, and arguably one of the best scenes in all of theatre. It concerns Marlene having dinner with five famous women, both fictional and non-fictional, played out like a stereotypical girls’ night on the town. Bella Ward is suitably precocious as Isabella Bird; interrupting (or at least attempting to) the other guests to recount her own tales, Ward’s delivery pitched at the perfect level of irritation; Pope Joan is played with hilarious regalness by Emily Millington, her delivery of a passage in pure Latin a both impressive and side-splitting feat; Nikki Hosker’s performance as Dull Gret ensures the relatively dialogue-free character is not lost into the background, stealing cutlery and food when the other guests’ backs are turned; Lucy Unsworth is fantastically irritating as Lady Nijo (thankfully without any hint of an attempt at a Japanese accent) and Shannon Lenton’s turn as Patient Griselda is short but memorable; her subtle eating of a cracker in the midst of the chaos that descends at the end of the scene a notable highlight. It’s impossible to pick a stand out performance, and the scene is an absolute joy to behold.
The play takes a somewhat darker and downward turn following scene one, and the second scene just doesn’t compare; a fault of Churchill and not of the production however. We see Marlene’s niece, Angie, played with a terrifying glint in the eye by Sarah Redford, discussing how she wants to murder her mother (Hosker again), and it’s almost as though you’re watching a totally different play, the only consistent factor being the double-roles played by some of the cast. Scene three brings it back, showing us Marlene at the office. Emily Millington and Bella Ward’s performances as typical 1980s office girls are so different from their roles in the first scene they could almost be different actresses; Ward’s perfection of a patronising laugh so derisive to the young woman she’s interviewing kept me chuckling long after I’d left the venue. Marlene is slightly thrown back in the scene when Angie turns up to visit, and there is much discussion of the last time Marlene went to visit her and her mother. It is the scene of this visit which ends the play, and Gage and Hosker are sublime as two contrasting sisters, the moments of their argument played out with a high intensity.
This was a very strong production of an interesting play, and all involved should be immensely proud of what they achieved, particularly director Luke Morgan, who took a very complicated play to put on and made it seem a breeze.