Review by Danny Gaisin
Margaret Thatcher was England’s Prime minister from 1979 to 1990. As a woman who had broken the so-called ‘Glass Ceiling’, she became an instant icon for feminists everywhere. Alas, she proved an exception rather than a new rule. Playwright Caryl Churchill’s 1982 “TOP GIRLS” is an allegorical study about the struggles women have faced throughout history as seen through the eyes of Marlene, a contemporary employment agency mid-manager who has just acceded to a position of responsibility over her male counterpart. The plot is basically broken into four segments that though totally diverse…interconnect. ‘Awesome’, despite it’s present connotations, is defined
Photo by Jim Smagata (UTM)
as something dreadful; fearsome; profound or intimidating. It is the last explanation that most signifies undertaking the staging of such a challenging play. The hurdles are directing; managing; acting and even watching such an ambitious goal. Theatre Erindale’s graduating class and it’s director have managed to ‘ace’ the project.
‘Top Girls’ opens with ‘Marlene ‘ hosting a dinner party with five iconic female guests from history & legend. Pope Joan was a 9th century woman who passed for a male and thus acceded to the Fisherman’s shoes. Isabella Bird was an explorer/writer. ‘Dull Gret’ was a Viking warrior from Breughel’s famous painting. Nijo was a Japanese Emperor’s concubine and ‘Patient Griselda’ was a character in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. Each perform as a stereotype of the differing subjugation’s of a male-dominated culture.
Parts two and three are the present-day agency office and then a prequel showing two young kids -‘Angie’ & ‘Louise’, going though puberty. This particular scene performed by Jillian Robinson & Kat White will reverberate within every audience member whether male or female. Marlene is the pivotal character and Amanda McPherson ably demonstrates that the four years of UTM training has left it’s graduates with consummate thespian talent that will certainly be in demand within the mainstream theatre world. Her poise; timing, facial expression and even posture reflects her characterizations . Her role like all the others- demands multiples.
Every defining role in the opening dinner-party sequence is perfectly characterized and transparent. Hannah Termaat’s ‘Dull Gret’ has minimal dialogue but she makes her presence known through the vehicle of stance and uncouth mannerisms that reflect the Viking culture. Griselda, as portrayed by Zenia Sethna evoked a long-forgotten persona from my studying days when reading Chaucer was mandated. As recalled, she was a ‘Pretty Woman’ persona who was decidedly obedient even to a point of defending egregious behaviour by her husband. Her defensive dialogue with Lindsay Wu’s Lady Nijo sounds like any vapid conversation on T. V’s “The View” with both protagonists talking over each other. This activity is a directorial piece of artistic design that is realistic and effective but makes following the points being iterated, difficult to follow. Wu has one of the most endearing and charismatic manners that will take her far in her career and given that…Kim’s Convenience® should send out an emissary tout-suite, to witness her on stage. Amazingly, she still has another year of study.
All of the above (except McPherson), including the support personas from Emily Clarke & Mackenzie Connelly play multiple roles. Another thespian-challenging hurdle but the quintet manage each aspect with aplomb. Very impressive and obviously a manifestation of microscopic detailing by director Melee Hutton whose attention to every component makes this effort such a success. The blocking; dramatic pauses; emphases; and creativity reflect her extraordinary efforts which are then reflected by her on-stage charges. The support she’s received from Laura Grandfield’s stage management and especially Michelle Vanderheyden’s creative costuming all enhance the overall effect and impact of TOP GIRLS.
Caveat: – The plot & sub-plot messages are not nuanced – they are visceral and identifiable, thus may be uncomfortable to witness and perhaps personally recognizable to audiences. So, a caution. But if awesome theatre renderings are to one’s taste; this is one of those not-to-be-missed efforts.
It’s on stage at UTM’s Theatre Erindale until March 25th.