Top Girls

Caryl Churchill
Northumbria Live Academy
Live Theatre, Newcastle
(2006)

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I'd read the play and loved it but had never seen it performed, so I was really looking forward to Northumbria Live Academy's production at Live Theatre. Top Girls, written in 1982, has been called "an enduring classic and a play of its time." It raises the issues of the changing roles of women in society: has it ever been and will it ever be possible for a woman to have it all, career, independence, power and close maternal bonds?

Throughout the play the women discuss their views on marriage, sex, ambition and maternal instincts. We learn of the decisions and choices they have made and the consequences of those choices.

My favourite part of the play is the first act and I was interested to see how they were going to pull it off. I wasn't disappointed. The words on the page, especially with the complex overlap of dialogue, can be confusing and distracting. In this performance however, the characters veritably burst into life.

Act One of Top Girls takes place in a restaurant on a Saturday night where Marlene, played by Katie Mawby, is hosting a dinner party in celebration of her promotion in a recruitment agency. With her Thatcheresque voice, Mawby gave a very strong performance as the high achieving but emotionally unfulfilled career girl who seeks comfort in the bottle. Marlene's guests are five women from history and legend.

The first guests to arrive are Lady Nijo, played by Kathryn Evans, who gave a delightful performance as the Japanese courtesan turned Buddhist nu,n and who later played the fun loving, career minded Win and then Jeanine. With her is the feisty Isabella Bird played by Stephanie Watkins, who also takes on the roles of the ever faithful Mrs Kidd and Joyce.

The next guest to arrive is Pope Joan played by the talented Emma Newrick, whose Latin incantation was amazing (even though I couldn't understand a word of it!) and whom we later see transformed into the very glamorous but not very intelligent Shona.

Lucy McCorry then makes her appearance as Dull Gret, the subject of Brueghel's painting. Clad in helmet, body army and an apron, she poses in the doorway long enough for the audience to appreciate the wonderful spectacle she makes and stop laughing. McCorry added more than a little comedy to the dinner party, where she managed to plough her way through a substantial amount of food and a bottle of wine (she must have starved herself all day!) She later showed her versatility by giving a heart-rending poignancy to her performance as the unloved and unwanted Angie.

Last, but by no means least, to arrive is the submissive Patient Griselda, played by Alice Hewitt, who later played the roles of the career girl Nell and a thoroughly convincing young Kit.

The dialogue was delivered faultlessly and the costume changes and character transitions ran smoothly, thanks to a talented production team. The play was skillfully directed by Steve Gilroy (who incidentally also mixed the music for the production) and his assistant director Andrew Craggs. The set, designed by Gary McCann, was stylish and minimal. The production was stage managed by Laura Eaton and her assistant Paul Aziz and the wonderful costumes by Susie Troup, particularly in the opening scene, added much to the audience's enjoyment.

The whole performance was highly entertaining, slick and polished. The skill and talent of these young actresses and their versatility is to be commended.

"Top Girls" is showing at Live Theatreuntil 18th February 2006.

Reviewer: Diane Kennedy