“WOMAN THIS AND WOMAN THAT…”
Presented by the New Theatre, July 2013
There remains no greater case to validate the work of the playwright than the presentation of their text as writ, no greater challenge to the actor or director to take on a cohesive writer’s vision and remain true to their intent. Such is the way at the New Theatre, no mincing about with rewrites or such periphery – their latest production in a series of good plays done well, opened to a well-earned third ovation and an opening night crowd (of the usual suspects) in a genuine conversational post-show buzz of ideas, politics, history and broad appreciation of the craft.
Still scalding some thirty years after its first showing, Caryl Churchill’s script treads between expressionism and vignette-realism. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, go and see this play immediately, for it remains one of the finest examples in the modern canon of bold social realist writing, with a representational aesthetic that forces audiences to examine what they see beyond the literal. The opening moments tell us thus, entering to a luxurious table setting in a dark parody of the famous game where one invites a group of historical figures for dinner. A shrewd device in this instance to create a socio-political context to shed light on the modern idiosyncrasies we will bear witness to in Acts II & III. Churchill extending the metaphor in a truly fantastic (as in portraying the literal outcome of a fantasy) game of ‘what-if?’
In this case the women all represent different phases and elements of an historic and systemic patriarchal society. Each reaching various dizzying heights of achievement within the worlds they inhabited, and yet always somehow defined by the male-dominated systems which surround them. Much comedy can be found in the absurd expression of this familiar setting, the bristling and posturing of a dinner party made up of (shall we say) larger-than-life personalities. We’ve all sat at this table at some point or another, although it’s arguable how many of these parties are held in the company of the famously dead.
The mercurial setting of the first scene thus offers a fascinating glimpse at history which allows the audience member to do their own excavation in light of the more immediately accessible second half. Paradoxically this modern account of the foibles of women’s liberation in the face of Thatcher’s Britain is a tougher theatrical journey to explore. Perhaps it’s the closeness to our own social experience which sits uncomfortably as social commentary? Either way the expressionist grandeur of the opening salvo suggests the quiet familiarity of the domestic and workplace settings is not to be taken at face value. Churchill wants us to look at our own choices in the face of the impossible (as men or women) – whether it’s 13th Century Rome or Britain 1982, this sadly remains a markedly relevant question for Australia circa 2013. Especially 2013.
A simple, effective design scheme and some excellent dedication to the text from the cast make what seems short work of a very challenging and complex play. The careful dedication to the dialogue and timing and above all the engaging naturalism and warmth of the characters from the ensemble are, simply put: a joy to behold. We’ll be seeing it again.
Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Alice Livingstone, featuring Sarah Aubrey, Claudia Barrie, Julia Billington, Maeve MacGregor, Ainslie McGlynn, Bishanyia Vincent and Cheryl Ward.
Playing at the New Theatre until August 3rd.
Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE. Tags: Ainslie McGlynn, Alice Livingstone, Bishanyia Vincent, Cary Churchill, Cheryl Ward, Claudia Barrie, Julia Billington, Maeve MacGregor, New Theatre, Sarah Aubrey, Top Girls.