‘Anyone can do anything if they’ve got what it takes.’
On Friday night I went to the opening night of Silo Theatre’s, Top Girls, directed by Shane Bosher. It was a very spirit of the moment decision and although I was always going to go see it at some point, I really had no idea what to expect. If I’ll be honest I’d only ever heard of bad school productions of the play and that there were two intervals – it’s a long play.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I may be biased, my mother, Jane Hakaraia was the lighting designer and I got comps. But either way, what I saw I really loved.
Written in 1982 by Caryl Churchill, Top Girls is set in Margaret Thatcher’s England and discusses the role of women in the work force and society as a whole. Danielle Cormack’s character, Marlene is at the center of this world, chairing a dinner party of woman from history in the first act, while the second and third acts look more closely at her life as a working woman in the ’80’s. Despite being 115 minutes all up, with two intervals, I didn’t get bored once. An odd feat.
The actresses in this play are simply phenomenal. The first act sees Nancy Brunning, unrecognisable as the insanely irritating, Lady Nijo and Rima te Wiata as the hilarious Pope Joan. She had most of the audience in hysterics until it became very awkward and you began to wonder if you should have been laughing at all – if you go, you will know what I mean. Bronwyn Bradley was great as Isabella Bird – but really what else can you expect from her? Rachel Forman’s Patient Griselda seemed a bit low on energy (something she made up for in the second act as one of the girls at the employment agency), and Sophie Hambleton was quietly quite amusing as Dull Gret. With last but least, Danielle Cormack to herd them into place as Marlene. I found it took me a while to get into this first act, I didn’t quite get where it was going but once everyone warmed up it was hilarious.
In the second two acts, Danielle Cormack’s Marlene is the centre of the story. It’s a bit confusing, the first act does not relate at all to the later ones, and Caryl Churchill has refused to either cut or explain the purpose of it. But nevertheless, in these later acts, Danielle Cormack moves fluidly from being a tough drinking, power dressing career bitch to a somewhat more vulnerable estranged sister. This is countered by Bronwyn Bradley as Marlene’s sister Joyce, a tired, depressed woman who never got out, never succeeded and lives, angry and downtrodden at the thought of her younger, more glamourous and successful sister.
Angie, played by Sophie Hambleton completes the family as Joyce’s daughter. She’s the wasted youth, a symbol of a society trudging along through times of economic hardship and job cuts. It’s a sad picture, a bit of a dichotomy between the success and buzz of women moving into high powered positions and the growing English underclass. Marlene talks about how things are going to get better, she’s optimistic at the idea of Margaret Thatcher, but it seems a bit eerie to watch now. Aren’t similar things happening again?
The performance wouldn’t have been quite so catching however without the hard work of a skilled design team, with Simon Coleman on set, Elizabeth Whiting on costume and Jane Hakaraia on lighting.
The three acts are quite clearly defined. The play opens with a round table, set for dinner. This rotates slowly throughout the act allowing the audience to see all angles of every body that is seated at the table. I was a bit concerned that this may make me dizzy, but thank god it didn’t. It also proved to be quite a source of notice for myself as I watched the techs attempt to line up the carpet perfectly each time the floor turned in later scenes. Overhead, there is a suspended roof and the most beautiful chandelier – a series of round lightbulbs suspended at different lengths.
The second act moves into the Top Girls Employment agency, it’s white. Extremely white and blaring, with white tables, white chairs, chrome, fluoros. It’s deliciously sterile.
Finally, the third act, and probably my favourite visually is set in Joyce’s home. It’s messy, muddy in colour, crowded. One of my favourite features was a lamp which rose from being lain on the floor to being suspended above the room at the beginning of the act and the shed/ other room type thing at the back. It was a really cohesive look, the set and lighting working together, the clothes perfectly fitting the situation.
I shouldn’t forget the music though, maybe it was just an opening night thing, maybe not, but between every scene popular ’80’s hits blasted at full volume and the audience clapped. Between every scene. I’m fairly sure I haven’t experienced anything like that before in a theatre.
Despite the rather sombre end to the play, it was quite exciting. I don’t think that I have ever sat through a play that long without sneaking a look at the clock once, ever. The party afterwards was really great fun as well. I got to catch up with a friend that I don’t see very often and well lets be honest, who doesn’t love free drinks, free food, fun music and great company? It’s a no brainer. Also I should say thank, you thank you, thank you to Jess – the executive director who gave me a ring off her own hand. I love it.
If you managed to plough through this beast of a post and would like to see Top Girls, (it’s definitely worth it) it’s on until the 17th of March at the Q – next to the Comedy Club and Town Hall on Queen St and you can buy tickets here.
Tomorrow night is 20something night and if you’re 20something or a student you can get tickets for $25, a bargain. They usually have a dj and other interactive stuff. Check out their facebook here.