Caryl Churchill's landmark play of the 1980's has not been seen widely in the north- west. But can a play about women climbing the corporate ladder against a backdrop of Thatcherism hold much interest for today's audience?
Well, as director Chris Honer says "It is certainly a period piece, coming very much out of that moment in the early 1980s when there was a woman prime minister for the first time." But the issue of motherhood versus career remains evergreen in today's society.
Act one takes place at a dinner involving female guests from the past invited by Marlene - a character from the present. She is a tough modern 1980's go-getter who represents the here and now. The audience eavesdrops on the women's conversations where everything from abortion, feminism and loyalty are covered.
The second and third acts fill in the gaps and bring us back to 1980's Britain under Thatcher's rule. Marlene (Kate Williamson) has just been made Managing Director at Top Girl's Employment agency. But has she had to become a 'man' to get what she wants? How much of her old self has she had to sell to climb the ladder? The third act features many revelations and the audience realises that Marlene is not as tough as she appears.
Churchill's writing remains relevant and gives the seven gifted actresses plenty of meat to get their teeth into. Williamson conveys Marlene's dilemma with ease, without once descending into complete caricature. Leah Muller fails to explore the role of Lady Nijo with real depth but excels herself as Angie, a troubled teenager whose prospects look bleak. Sophie James brings heartache to the stage as Marlene's downtrodden sister, Joyce.
Honer directs with real respect for the writing. But at times during the first act many of the cast members cannot be heard thanks to Churchill’s device of overlapping dialogue. Added to this distraction is Sarah Williamson's spinning set which confuses even further.
I am happy to report though that this production really comes to life in the second act and had the audience - on the night I attended - laughing and nodding in recognition. Ultimately the excellent performances and sharp dialogue keep you watching even if you feel you have been here before.
- Glenn Meads