Caryl Churchill’s ground breaking play Top Girls, which first played in 1982, is described in the program as having “parallels to contemporary Australia and the global political-economy [that] are too obvious to be ignored”. Whilst many staunch feminists might argue that women still have a long way to go to achieve equality in a capitalist business driven economy, others will attest to the changes and significant developments that have occurred in the corporate world since this play was penned – so what is my point you ask? I spoke with several women after the performance who had also seen the show and asked how they felt about the representations that were made in this production. The general consensus was, whilst they could understand and recognise the feminist issues that were being portrayed, they couldn’t make any personal connections to them as it wasn’t something they could say they had “experienced”. Maybe all the women I asked were the lucky ones – or perhaps (and I am more inclined to believe in this case that the latter is true) this play would be better thought of as a historical representation of an ongoing issue, as it was during a particular time in history.
None of this, however, takes away from either the quality of the play, or the execution of the ideas by the playwright.
The State Theatre Company’s production was designed (stage and costume) by Mary Moore, but the set felt a little lazy to me. I use the word lazy, because I don’t think it went any way towards communicating the ideas which were so prevalent in the script – baring a fairly obvious glass ceiling which was frequently broken and occasionally not; depending on the time period being played. The play has a rather long dream sequence at the start before jumping around in time between the city and the country; the past and the future – and unfortunately the set did not aid the audience in their understanding of these shifts.
Despite my clear disappointment with the look of the set, this was still a very engaging and interesting piece of theatre. The first act was just on 1 hour 45 minutes, but felt as though it flew by quite fast. The performances were outstanding, and the costumes – particularly in the dream sequence – were simply stunning.
Director Catherine Fitzgerald and her cast of 7 women were crystal clear in their understanding of the issues. Ulli Birvé in the lead role of Marlene was strong in her characterisation and demonstrated a well-developed air of superiority. Of the entire cast, which also included Eileen Darley, Antje Guenther, Sally Hildyard, Carissa Lee, Ksenja Logos and Lia Reutens, there were no real standouts, but rather a feeling of true ensemble at work. Birvé and Darley were particularly captivating however in the final act when their sibling rivalry and conflicting ideals came to a head.
The odd chronology of the piece, its distorted timelines and the relationships made between the characters and larger sociological ideals was apparent but not screaming of the stage and to garner its fullest meaning really required a closer investigation of the work. This makes the production an interesting one to revisit – giving the audience an opportunity to restudy the form and uncover more implied meaning.