Dra­matic tale of its time still packs a punch

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

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.

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