by Caryl Churchill

Performed: Mar 2024

Director: Mark Burridge

Artwork for Top Girls
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Roughcast Theatre’s focus on classic texts – over half of their productions in the last ten years have been Shakespearean – has inevitably meant that the lion’s share of significant parts on offer favoured male performers. The staging of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, with its all-female cast, was therefore a rare and welcome opportunity to see other members of the company, while stalwarts Mark Burridge and Paul Baker served behind the scenes.

The play opens with the scene that Churchill is perhaps best known for, a hallucinatory night out for Catriona Macrae-Gibson’s superbly drawn Marlene and key figures from history and literature. Full marks are due to the fine ensemble cast, and Mark Burridge’s tight direction, for marshalling Churchill’s signature overlapping dialogue. These women talked about themselves, to and over each other, deftly showcasing oppression, delusion and empowerment in equal measure. Annie McClaron’s Pope Joan’s tale was particularly chilling, as was Scarlett  Fisher’s self-regarding Lady Nijo. After a brief visit to the eponymous job agency, where we were treated to a comic turn from Dawn Briggs and Emma Mathews, we visit Marlene’s sister, played by Pat Parris, who was particularly effective as stoic, understated Joyce, the perfect foil for brass necked Marlene. As two sisters, living either side of the tracks, they offered up a compelling and nuanced snapshot of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, exploring a time of huge change that still reverberates forty years on.

Top Girls pushes the boundaries of theatre, with elements of fantasy, time shifts, and frequently incoherent dialogue. It occupies that awkward space between period and contemporary drama, and Roughcast are to be commended for finding a way to present it in a way that manages to confront both how things were, but also how things are. The abiding message appears to be that things have changed, but they haven’t changed much.

David Vass