Photograph by Bob Seary
New Theatre presents TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill at the New Theatre, Newtown.
I have always regarded the writer as the God in the theatre from which all other creative efforts are inspired. The better the writer the more support all the other artists have to proceed to build a quality experience for an audience. When the writer is respected and examined to provide the superstructure for the production, trusting the writer's clues and resisting their own 're-writing' need to personally 'fingerprint' the original work, a good time is more likely to be arrived at than otherwise. I suspect, the Belvoir St production of ANGELS IN AMERICA and the Sydney Theatre Company's THE MAIDS are as successful as they are, because of the respect that all the artists have give the text as given by the writer.
Listening and watching TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill then, at the New Theatre, the other evening was a great pleasure, indeed. One felt the underpinning security of the genius of Ms Churchill through the 'adventure' of her daring content and form mastery. Three acts, two intervals, playing with time, examining the role of women in society - historically and contemporaneously (originally,1982) - challenging oppositional social and political conditions in witty, empathetic and, best of all, musical language and form - shape - the experience is stimulating and comfortable.
Director, Alice Livingstone has cast strongly and encouraged a secure ensemble of playing from her players. They all, except Julia Billington, create several roles. Ms Billington as the high flying, 'Thatcherite' of the play, Marlene, is beautifully counterpointed by Sarah Aubrey's Joyce (a welcome return to the theatre, I reckon) in the masterful last act. Ms Aubrey also turns her creativity to two other sure creations, Pope Joan and pathetic Mrs Kidd. But all the performers find great moments of performance: Bishanyia Vincent scores twice, in her daring casting as Lady Nijo, but tops that work in an absolutely wonderful reading of a gorgeously revealing and satirical monologue as Win in the Employment Agency of the second act - Ms Vincent's presence very striking, indeed; Cheryl Ward leads beautifully, musically her fellow actors in the immensely difficult writing of act one as Isabella Bird; and in one of four tasks, Maeve MacGregor creates a perfectly conceived 12 year old, Kit - delightful, totally entrancing; Ainslie McGlynn and Claudia Barrie support strongly with their work and focus in their 'double' acts.
I thought the costume design by Gina Rose Drew was wonderfully achieved, although the set was truly gruesome - a significant weakness in the judgement of Ms Livingstone's otherwise steady vision for this play. Sara Swersky gave generous support with a very demanding lighting scheme. The music choices resonating the period of the play are fun and focusing - Ashley Walker.
TOP GIRLS is an early play of Ms Churchill, following CLOUD NINE (1979), and she is still, actively, writing - born in 1938. She has been loyal to her feminist themes and ideas and they have been a guiding principle to all her work, pivotal, although a wider sense of social observation and critique has grown to be a further Hallmark to her ouevre, along with definite and challenging explorations of form. A MOUTHFUL OF BIRDS (1986) was the first really challenging form exploration, followed by SERIOUS MONEY (1987), and then works such as FAR AWAY (2000), A NUMBER (2002), DRUNK ENOUGH TO SAY I LOVE YOU? (2006) and the latest, LOVE AND INFORMATION (2012) featuring 100 characters for 15 actors in some some 50 scenes, some only 25 seconds long, all of which appear unconnected until all the 'mosaic' of her vision have been laid, is where she has pushed the horizons of writing for the theatre. She is regarded as one of the great perceptors of the world and its 'politics' and daring innovator in contemporary theatre writing - a model to be emulated.
Sitting in my audience were many young writers. Some of them very promising, indeed. Some of them very interesting and thought provoking women. I hope watching the skill and provoking content of Ms Churchill's play has inspired them - for we need their point-of-view, vitally.
TOP GIRLS is more than worth catching. After seeing three women in THE MAIDS giving shattering performances, it is really exciting to see these six women strut their potential as well.