Top Girls @ Trafalgar Studio 1
There’s always a danger with plays rooted in their era that they become dated, historical curios of interest with no real impact. Given Top Girls is so firmly set in the shoulder pads and avocado salads of the 80s you might think it’s suffered the same fate, but it’s weathered, rather depressingly, remarkably well.
In fact the opening scene – in which Marlene (Suranne Jones) celebrates her promotion by throwing a dinner party with successful women of history and fiction – helps reinforce just how timeless the central themes of the play are; whatever the era, for women to achieve stereotypically masculine successes requires at least compromise and at worst huge sacrifices of motherhood and female identity.
It’s a wonderfully surreal, if slightly impregnable, first scene; conversations between Nijo (Catherine McCormack) and Isabella Bird (Stella Gonet) overlap with those of Marlene and Pope Joan (Lucy Briers), and in focusing in on one you feel you’re missing out on another. Still, Max Stafford-Clark keeps clarity and tautness to the play as a whole and allowing two intervals also works well; sustaining the structure and underlining the changes in time.
The second two acts are well served by Olivia Poulet’s dangerously and tragically innocent Angie, whilst Suranne Jones finds some lovely flecks of regret amongst the polished grit of Marlene. But it’s Stella Gonet who really steals the show; her Isabella Bird has charming warmth, whilst her Joyce has a deft mix of capability and stagnation. The final scene may lack punch, but it makes up for it with nuanced restraint.
Peter Clapp TheatreFix Reviewer
Top Girls is playing at Trafalgar Studio 1 until 29th October