Dramatic tale of its time still packs a punch
WITH its fantasy dinner party scene, its overlapping dialogue and time shifts, not to mention its hawk-eyed look at 1980s feminism, Caryl Churchill’s all-female 1982 play Top Girls was groundbreaking in its day.
It still packs a punch in this superb Sydney Theatre Company production, directed by Imara Savage.
It begins with a thrillingly witty scene in which Marlene (Helen Thomson) hosts a dinner party to celebrate her promotion to top dog at the Top Girls London employment agency. Her guests are a group of extraordinary, pioneering women (some real, some fictional) from across history, among them a Pope from the Middle Ages, a 13th-century Japanese geisha and a Victorian explorer.
From there the play changes gear as it moves to 1982, when Margaret Thatcher was advocating her “no such thing as society” brand of individualistic capitalism.
Shifting between the Top Girls office and the shabby council home of Marlene’s sister Joyce (Kate Box), who is struggling to raise the angry, unhappy teenager Angie (Contessa Treffone), Churchill looks at the compromises and sacrifices high-achieving women have willingly made or foisted on others to succeed in a man’s world.
At the other end of the spectrum are women who have been trampled on, betrayed, overlooked and killed by the patriarchal system.
The play ends with a fierce argument between Marlene and Joyce about family, class, and social injustice, which encapsulates the yawning divide between the haves and the have-nots in Thatcher’s Britain. Sisterhood? Forget it.
Paula Arundell, Michelle Lim Davidson, Claire Lovering and Heather Mitchell complete the cast. Apart from Thomson they all play several roles and are all excellent. As for the final, explosive scene, it is so devastatingly well performed by Thomson and Box that the opening night audience held its breath as one. Recommended.
Helen Thomson in Top Girls.