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.