With delicious irony Churchill’s ground-breaking play of the 80s is revived on the same day there’s a nationwide public sector strike.
The famous opening scene with famous fictional and real-life women and their travails from the centuries, particularly regarding the fate of their children, serves as an appetiser for the main story, that of Marlene, a successful businesswoman and her rise to the top. The play was written to accompany the accession of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister and asks some uncomfortable questions about women’s role in society.
It is, however, hard to understand why the play has been revived at this particular time unless to the lack of progress made by women in workplaces in the intervening years. What would have been interesting was if Churchill had written a coda to the piece, stating what had happened to the characters over the past 30 years.
Max Stafford-Clark’s production – complete with a swish design from Tim Shortall – has transposed the two scenes in the second act, building up to the scene at the employment agency – a move that makes dramatic sense.
There are some strong performances from the seven-women cast. Suranne Jones makes for a truly plausible Marlene, pushing hard for material success and looking askance on those who haven’t made it but there’s an excellent performance too from Lucy Briars as Pope Joan and a put-upon middle manager, Louise, trampled on and overlooked by her male colleagues.
For me, the best performances are from Stella Gonet as a very droll Isabella, the Victorian traveller, and, powerfully, Marlene’s sister who, in a bitter speech, makes it plain that she doesn’t share Marlene’s values s and reminding her that the there are people out there with “rubbish lives” through no fault of their own.
It’s good to see a play with an all-woman cast and a play that examines so many crucial contemporary issues, but despite some good all-round performances, this does have the air of a bit of a museum piece.