Given the time and style dichotomies in
Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, a director is always
going to be hard-pressed to make its three scenes into a coherent
whole. Gari Jones' new production goes a considerable way towards
solving the problem by incorporating a visual cohesion. Sara Perks
has devised a set backed with projection screens covered in
signatures and dominated by a circular raised area on a revolve.
This houses the opening dinner party
and is then stripped down, as we watch, so that its stark, modernist
furniture devolves into the employment agency where Marlene has just
been appointed managing director and then to her sister Joyce's run-down
Suffolk home. The formal chairs of the diners are ranked either side
of the now-stilled revolve; actresses not directly involved in the
scene being played out sit on them, and wait.
It works very well. Without the
projected potted biographies of the dinner-party guests, all those
overlapping narrations in the first scene would be even more
bewildering and difficult to follow than Churchill has made them.
Shuna Snow makes much of Pope Joan's ultimately moving as well as
harrowing recounting of her downfall and Kristin Hutchinson is
convincing as Victorian explorer Isabella Bird.
The scene between stay-at-home Joyce
and high-flier Marlene is finely paced by Hutchinson,
increasingly bitter as her years of frustration finally boil over,
and Gina Isaac's beautifully detailed Marlene. She inhabits the
career woman to a degree where we cannot withhold understanding, even
if our actual liking for the character is in short supply. The
teenagers, slightly retarded Angie and tomboy Kit, bounce into real
life as played by Clare Humphrey and Amy Stacey.
Amanda Haberland as the imperial
concubine Lady Nijo and Nadia Morgan as docile too-patient Griselda
translate themselves effortlessly into the 1980s Win, Nell and
Janine, three women with bright aspirations but less inspiration. Hutchinson, incidentally, completes her hat-trick of
characterisations with a fine sketch of Mrs Kidd, wife to the man
Marlene has just displaced, whose plea for the restoration of his
lost dignity inevitably falls on unresponsive ears.