LOTTIE UNWIN finds feminist drama to be a game of two halves.
Newnham Old Labs, 3rd-5th November, 7.30pm, £4
Directed by Beatrice Burrows
I wrote a side and half of notes on the first act of Top Girls and then only a few line defying, illegible scrawls, which is telling. Beatrice Burrows’ production was infuriating for the first famous act around the dinner table, but after that I didn’t really look down.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
The programme proclaims ‘never before have so many big players sat at the same table’, but for the to audience believe six feminists from throughout history are tucking into waldorf salad and profiteroles together the characterization has to be spot on. Unfortunately, Catherine Trinder’s Pope Joan and Tara Mansell’s Isabella Bird were disconcertingly similar, facing each other with their severe dress and blonde bobs and Lay Nijo (Genevieve Gaunt) seemed uncomfortably raucous for the traditional values she upholds. There were no relationships between the characters, just voiceovers awkwardly and unprofessionally overlapping.
However, the tables turned (literally, in one of the awkward scene changes). The acting blossomed remarkably, with both Tara Mansell and Genevieve Gaunt transformed by their new roles as teen Angie and business beauty Winn. Once the bottles and bottles of wine from the first act that never got anyone drunk had gone, the simple use of the space became ingenious, evoking a 70’s office with some awful suits and bright files.
Anna Sheinman’s Marlene held the show together, essaying a complex character with facial expressions enigmatic enough to match her bolts of blue eye shadow. Rosanne Brown was stupendous: adding much needed variation to the dinner party scene as the remarkable Gret, ; tortured as Mrs Kidd, rehashing her husband’s misogynist views; and trapped by her education, ambition and social situation as Joyce.
The girl at the ticket office had told me repeatedly, ‘turn left, then right at the square trees and keep walking, anticipating I would get lost in my search for the Labs. But, in the discussion between Sheinman’s Marlene and Brown’s Joyce, setting Top Girls in the darkest corner of Newnham’s grounds suddenly made complete sense. Here, two the characters came alive, as real women, with real history raising some very real issues, and I was right with them.
I still want to know if difficult child, Angie, had killed her mum with the big brick she was clutching. But, not even Wikipedia will tell me what actually happens in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, so it’s hardly Burrows’ fault.
Photos by Emily Donegan.