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Did critics have a top time at Top Girls?

Caryl Churchill's play is revived at the National Theatre

Lucy Ellison as Patient Griselda
© Johan Persson

Laura Barnett, WhatsOnStage

★★★★

"Pope Joan eating cannelloni; Dull Gret raiding the bread basket; Patient Griselda wondering whether to order dessert: the famous opening scene to this, Caryl Churchill's groundbreaking 1982 play, remains just as flavoursome thirty-seven years on."

"The cast of this revival, directed by Lyndsey Turner, is on sparkling form here, and the laughs come thick and fast – at the mostly silent Gret (Ashley McGuire), splendid in her armoured breast-plate, and at Joan, superbly played by Amanda Lawrence, as she lurches from Latin oration to drunken vomiting. The scene is strong enough to stand alone, and is often performed as such: here, it's easy to see why – though, at a distance of four decades, it seems extraordinary that the group contains only one non-European woman, and no women of colour."

"The sudden shifts of tone and style are disorientating, and there are distinct longueurs, but this production reminds us why the first and final scenes are among the best ever written for the modern stage."


Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★★★

"Last time Turner brought a Churchill play to the NT it was with a startlingly massive take on the more obscure Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. There is much less sense of a director – and designer – imposing herself on the work here. And rightly so, really: the vision is so specific and finely honed that you'd be an idiot to monkey with it. Maybe that's one reason it doesn't get revived that often.

"Turner's care for the text shines through, and if there's a raison d'être for this production – other than Top Girls being generally awesome – it's clearly the budget. The sweep from epic opening to intimate end is poignant and awesome, and there is something deeply impressive about seeing row upon row of women take their bows at the end. It's Top Girls, given the production it always deserved."


Liv Hill as Angie, Charlotte Lucas as Win, Katherine Kingsley as Marlene
© Johan Persson


Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

★★★

"Lyndsey Turner's lavish production could make more of the dreamlike surrealism of this occasion. It's cryptic without being disturbing and never quite catches the rhythms of Churchill's overlapping dialogue, feeling stilted more often than dynamic. Later scenes aren't consistently involving, though Marlene's viciously competitive workplace and the poverty from which she's escaped are nicely observed, as are her awkward relationships with her estranged sister Joyce and immature niece Angie.

"Crucially, Churchill's playfulness still comes across, and so does her anger. Top Girls is an argument for compassion and a sharp look at social inequality, demanding a place at the table for women of all backgrounds. "


David Benedict, The Stage

★★★

"Part of the problem with this revival is its scale. The original production featured a cast of seven, six of whom played Marlene's guests and all the other characters. And although one of the threads of the play is economics – at its considerable heart, the sisters' vividly contrasting outlooks stem partly from opposing financial circumstances – Churchill didn't structure the play in that way solely because the Royal Court couldn't afford the National's cast of 18."

"Even in the dinner scene, humour too often evaporates because the emphasis in the overlapping speeches, a technique Churchill invented, seems more on the dialogue's rhythm than its content. Amanda Lawrence has a delicious air of asperity as Joan, who, allegedly, dressed as a man and passed herself off as Pope between 855 and 857 – but several other characterisations play out as one-dimensional. And with the actors talking much more than they are listening, it's hard for audiences to focus on the characters' stories that will later spread their resonances through the drama."


Ann Treneman, The Times

★★

"We linger far too long on the rather tedious employment agency interviews with various not-so-top girls, all of which highlight various ways that women can be held back."

"On paper this production has so much going for it, including a great cast and Olivier award-winning director. The set by Ian MacNeil (a man!) breaks up the large stage and the swanky dinner party banquette seating is particular good. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt but, though it does take off at times, mostly at the dinner party and towards the end, much of it felt as flat as a deflated shoulder pad."

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