feminism, film, tv, and music, literature, theatre

Progress Theatre, Reading: Top Girls by Caryl Churchill – ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Last weekend marked the end of the run of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Top Girls’ at the Progress Theatre, Reading. I’ve never had the chance to see a play at this theatre so was very excited, since I’d heard amazing things, and knowing someone that I can already vouch for being extremely talented was in the production gave me further faith in this. I also, of course, wanted to support them!

I saw the production on Friday so only had the chance to review it post-production, but I wanted to rave about the theatre company and cast, as well as having a chance to discuss the play itself a little; a play which I adore.

I first of all would like to discuss the theatre and company itself.

The theatre itself is a quaint little beauty that’s been in operation for over 70 years, and reaches a wide reception of people. The journey’s a 20-minute walk from town and the train station, but you can reach it on the 21 bus (with consistent fares… that’s what we love about Reading Buses) within 5-or-so minutes.

It seats around 100 guests, making shows all the more intimate and engaging – something significantly important during this production – and has wheelchair and cater seats, meaning it it accessible. The only disappointing part in the terms of accessibility is that there is only a singular wheelchair seat. This can be justified on the grounds of being such a small theatre, however is not ideal, especially given the consideration that myself and my partner had to book an average seat, meaning I could not bring my chair.

On accessibility, the theatre company is wonderfully inclusive, as I’m aware that members of the cast identify as disabled yet we’re still well accommodated; this is significant to disabled people who engage in the arts, like myself, who has had to miss out on productions due to a lack of accessibility within rehearsals etc. The inclusivity also covers age, defying the ‘young faces in theatre’ stereotype. A lot of the cast were in fact not in their youth, but adulthood and beyond. A perfect representation of this was Pope Joan’s actor and subsequent characterisation. Goodness me, Pope Joan was an absolute legend.

The Production

There was a lot about the production that I loved, from the cast to the staging and beyond.

The cast truly were wonderful, ranging in age and exhibiting specialities within their talents, and it made for a powerful production.

I imagined that ‘Angie’ would be hard to characterise, being an older teen with a leaning towards petulant violence, but she was characterised wonderfully and it was extremely powerful.

In the first Act, the staging of the production was wonderful. Though I’d always imagined the table as round, the lay out of the four women and two on the ends, ensuring the audience were able to see the proceedings whilst it seemed natural, was wonderful. This, and the deflective body language shared from woman to woman (particularly evident in the characterisation of Isabella Bird) put the intended message across and complimenting all women talking over one another.

I also found as they spoke over one another, that the narrative could still be followed, hearing of the successes and hardships of every lady, whilst they tried to vocally exert their power. I will note that others said this was not as easy to follow so it’s worth mentioning I did have a strong knowledge of the play prior to this.

Regardless of whether one knew the play or not, the threads of women were easily followed to important moments, even when there was no full context. This was particularly evident as all the women laughed hysterically, meanwhile Pope Joan announced her being stoned to death. This caused a harrowing silence through the stage and audience alike, meaning the moment was filled an impactful blow.

All the comedic moments throughout the play were subtlety highlighted by the cast members, though not emphasising them falsely, and this starkly contrasted the many serious moments within the play.

The atmosphere created in moments like these was astounding, and it was further emphasised through the reactions of the audience, who were a good crowd for the play.

The change of scene into the second act was also very impactful, having the office set-up at the back of the stage so the lighting could focus on one area, though a whole staging was set up. This also meant the scenes could be easily switched, creating an abruptness alike to the conservative characters of the play.

This also provided ease for ensuring the non-linear nature of the play was protected and allowing this to provide insight into each character and the way they’re presented in such a way until the end… a part of the play that took place before the rest, in fact. The placement of these scenes adds to the feelings of separation presented, and I found the staging of this to really help, as before mentioned, being switched but on the same stage; this aligns with the play’s motto of being individual and separate, even from those closest to you.

Overall, the production by Progress Theatre of a play I already adored, went beyond standards. I wish the play had a longer run, and I wish it had been recorded, too – I think it would not only be enjoyable for a wider audience, but also beneficial for A Level students studying the play.

I’m so glad to get back into Theatre / Literature reviews and similar, and hope to do more over summer. I’ve missed this side of blogging.

I’m looking forward to writing up a review on the Old Vic’s ‘All My Sons’ and my favourite musical, Six, soon!

Love always,

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