Top Girls

25 Jul

Gender issues are not what I usually write about. For obvious reasons.

But it’s not something I’ve had to skate around that often. Which is rather sad.

So it’s an absolute delight to see a cast solely of women and a play that puts issues that women face centre stage.

Both heartbreaking and hilarious, Alice Livingstone’s production of Caryl Churchill’s play is superb. The cast are brilliant.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

Top Girls is a provocative, engaging and deeply annoying title. It encapsulates the thorny issue at the play’s heart, and the issue that makes this play of abiding relevance.

Every member of an oppressed group faces an extra challenge in addition to the many that make them a member of an oppressed group in the first place. That challenge is the responsibility they have to the other members of the group.  An unavoidable question must be faced: “If I personally can break out of the circumstances that previously held me back, am I obliged to help those I left behind?”

Am I an individual? Or am I a member of a group?

( Margaret Thatcher’s answer, it’s worth noting, was “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”)

For me, the most poignant moment in the play comes at the end of the second act. I don’t do spoilers, so go and see it.  Suffice to say, this moment encapsulates the very issue I’m discussing. It’s a line delivered by Julia Billington, whose entire performance is extraordinary. Billington plays Marlene, the top girl who exists in both the play’s present (Thatcher’s Britain), and in the play’s intriguing opening, a dinner party where the guests are a broad sample of women from the past. (The stories these women share around the table are enough to make you feel that the world really is a vale of tears. Or at least the world we’ve allowed to exist.)

But back to that moment.  Marlene’s line is about one of her relatives, poor simple Angie, played marvelously by Claudia Barrie. Marlene’s line is delivered with throw away perfection. For when our hearts have hardened we no longer have a use for them.

Sharply intelligent and deeply moving,  this play argues for softness but does it with an iron strength.

Veronica Kaye

Top Girls

New Theatre until 3rd August

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