“An impactful, humorous and thought-provoking performance…
Rocket Theatre Company excels in producing an impactful, humorous and thought-provoking performance of “Top Girls” written by Caryl Churchill. The play is a grounded examination of the varying roles available to women in a patriarchal society, that is also shaped by the inequalities inflicted by the polarising political climate of the early 1980’s. Directors (Alvi Lindborg-Koh and Maariya Khalid, assisted by Felicity Rickard) masterfully present an accomplished and nuanced version of Top Girls, that expertly utilises each actor’s unique qualities to create a gritty production that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
Not enough praise can go the entire creative and production team for constructing such an elaborate set, which felt entirely intentional, and aided key moments of the plot. The set and costume designer (Abdullah Lutfi) deserves the greatest recognition for pulling off such a tricky job; so many diverse props were used in each scene, and the set as a whole felt incredibly polished for a student production. Occasionally, set changes dragged slightly, and lights came up too quickly, but this had no impact on the overall production value. The choice to include music in longer scene changes was much appreciated, all actors remained in character throughout any prop mishaps, and any mistakes were barely noticeable due to the incredible professionalism of all the performers. The cast constantly kept focus on the delightedly chaotic dialogue exchanges, and this helped the audience to build meaningful connections to each character. It has to be stated that City Theatre was the perfect location for such an intimate production, as it felt like we were in the room with the characters. Especially during the last scene, the emotional reactions of each actor felt so real! Being in such a cosy venue really aided the audience’s investment in the show.
Without doubt the stars of the production rest in the talented cast. Each actor felt believable and brought both tender and comical moments. The script could have felt very heavy if it wasn’t for the down-to-earth interpretations of each actor, who managed to make themselves relatable to the audience. Even in moments of tension, I found myself empathising with each character’s experience of misogyny, the most profound example of this being in the final exchange between Marlene (Bethan Avery) and Joyce (Zara Stokes-Neustadt). The discussion of social class and its relationship to women’s experiences in the 1980s was moving to say the least; both actors provided such passion to their lines that I almost forgot I was watching a play. The introspective nature of the dialogue was not lost within any of the directorial choices, and all performers were able to capture the social position of any given character, shining a light on the real history women have faced.
A stellar performance was provided by Bethan Avery, who had the difficult task of holding together the initially confusing plot. Her confident demeanour and likeable charm made the audience root for her, even in times when her character came across as unlikeable. Her complicated sister relationship with Zara Stokes-Neustadt was of great significance, both of their roles representing the conflicting experiences of women in different social classes, and the strength of their acting and onstage chemistry made them equally shine. In particular, the pure emotion of Zara in the final scene was masterfully compelling, and the touching moments of bonding between the pair felt realistic and heartfelt. Similarly, the sincerity of the production would have failed without the charisma and pure talent of Esme Lane who played Angie. Her youthful persona played exceptionally well against the more authoritative characters such as her mother and aunt, to whom she formed a playful attachment, leading the audience to feel an unexpected compassion for her.
Such raw emotion across the production could have led to a rather depressing watch if it wasn’t for the meaningful injections of humour scattered across the acts. Both Ellie Mather and Sylvie Norman-Taylor succeed in lightening the mood; through their comical facial expressions and exaggerated body language, they worked well as a pair to keep the pace flowing. Similarly, Molly Bell and Khaliun Mark’s dynamic was certainly entertaining, providing constant judgment of each other’s lives whilst being remarkably similar characters, offering a level of implicit comedy. Beautiful representations of innocence and naivety were provided through the performances of both Iqra Khadiza and Rigel Cian.
Overall, Top Girls was a phenomenal production accompanied by an incredible cast and crew, with an important message of female empowerment that nobody should miss.
By Niamh Williams
Photo Credits: Rocket Theatre Company