Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

23/02/2012 - 18/03/2012

Production Details


Stomping into 2012 with a gutsy girls-night-out, Silo brings back to the Auckland stage not only Underbelly: Razor’s Danielle Cormack, but one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, TOP GIRLS, when it plays at Q Theatre from February 23rd.

1980sLondon. Shoulder pads, power dressing and Maggie Thatcher. This is The Corporation of Me.

High-flying Marlene has eviscerated the glass ceiling. She’s finally landed the top job and is taking the girls out to celebrate. As the wine flows freely, so does the talk. Of the fickleness of men, the pleasures of sex, the price of achievement. This material girl may have made sacrifices while climbing the corporate ladder, but they’re all worth it, aren’t they?

Caryl Churchill’s wild and provocative dinner party is like no other. It’s safe to say that no restaurant, not even The Fat Duck or The French Cafe, has seen a power meal to match this one. Nor can Barbara Walters, Anna Wintour or any of their high-rolling sisterhood claim to have assembled a gathering of women like those who share rich foods and richer confidences. That’s because most iPhone contact lists don’t hold numbers for a dauntless world traveller from the Victorian era, a hell-storming peasant warrior out of a Flemish Renaissance painting, a 13 century Japanese courtesan turned Buddhist nun, a too-dutiful wife from the Canterbury Tales or a martyred female pope from the Middle Ages.

TOP GIRLS cemented playwright Caryl Churchill’s reputation as one of contemporary theatre’s leading playwrights when it debuted in 1982. Already known for her bold feminist and socialist outlook, Churchill perfectly foreshadowed the collateral damage of Thatcherism. Since its first production, her masterpiece has been performed by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Martha Plimpton, Marisa Tomei and our ownMiranda Harcourt. Surprisingly the play hasn’t been performed professionally inAuckland since 1984, when a Theatre Corporate production starred recent drama school graduate Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

Ironically titled, TOP GIRLS captures the contrasts and conflicts between American feminism (independent success and wealth) and British socialist feminism (collective group gain) during the 1980s;  themes that director Shane Bosher believes are still relevant in today’s society, despite contemporary attitude changes toward the modern businesswoman. In essence, Silo is asking its audiences how far we’ve actually come, and what are the sacrifices still being made.

Of late, Silo has presented a number of male-driven works and has been looking for the right moment to celebrate another strong ensemble of multi-generational female talent, in the tradition of famed productions THE WOMEN and SOME GIRLS.

Fresh from her role in hit Australian television series Underbelly: Razor, Danielle Cormack makes her return to the Auckland stage for the first time since 2006, when she appeared as iconic NZ writer Katherine Mansfield. Taking on the role of power dressing, HR girl Marlene, Cormack’s work in Underbelly as underworld figure Kate Leigh mirrors this role, as she enters the world of cut-throat corporate business. Cormack is joined by legendary comic talent Rima Te Wiata, fresh from her role in the touring production of Calendar Girls and former Shortland Street colleague Nancy Brunning, working together again for the first time in 20 years. The cast is completed by Bronwyn Bradley (Assassins; Go Girls; Live Live Cinema), Shortland Street actor Rachel Forman (Paige Monroe), Abigail Greenwood and Wellington-based award winner Sophie Hambleton, who makes herAuckland theatre debut.

“It would be nice to think that Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play, written during the rise of Thatcherism, now looks dated. In fact, it seems terrifyingly topical in its portrait of an individualistic society in which the few thrive at the expense of the many.”   Michael Billington, The Guardian, July 2011

TOP GIRLS plays at Q Theatre, 305 Queen Street, Auckland
February 23– March 18
Monday – Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm
OPEN DIALOGUE: Monday 27th February
TWENTYSOMETHING: Thursday 1st March
Tickets: $25.00 – $59.00 (service fees apply)
Tickets available through Q– or 09 309 9771  

You Can Be a Successful Woman, Too! (Terms and Conditions Apply)

Review by Rosabel Tan 28th Feb 2012

When people talk about women having careers, there’s a trade-off implied: You can’t have a career and a family – one will suffer if you try, and if you pursue the former, you’re defeminised: there’s something wrong with you or, at the very least, your womb.

Society has come far to ensure that this is a trade-off we can make, but it’s clear we have a long way to go and it’s this position that Silo explores in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Divided into three acts, the play opens with Marlene (Danielle Cormack) celebrating her recent promotion to managing director with an eclectic and incredible bunch of women from history: There’s Isabella Bird (Bronwyn Bradley) a nineteenth century explorer and writer, Lady Nijo (Nancy Brunning), a thirteenth century concubine to the Japanese emperor, Dull Gret (Sophie Hambleton), the painted figure who led an army of women to Hell, Patient Griselda (Rachel Forman), whose obedience was the centre of many a fourteenth century tale, and Pope Joan (Rima Te Wiata), who rose to her seat by masquerading as a man. [More


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Vignettes recall girl power and the glass ceiling

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 27th Feb 2012

Brilliance of opening dinner party scene is almost an act which is hard to follow

Written in the tumultuous period after Maggie Thatcher’s 1979 election, Top Girls jolts us back to when feminism was a serious political force.

The ardour of the early feminists has been swept away by successive waves of girl power but Silo theatre’s stylish production proves the play remains relevant and its status is well deserved.

Caryl Churchill’s distinctive post-modern style is brilliantly displayed in the famous dinner party scene where a bizarre assortment of historical and fictional female characters are thrown together in a swanky London restaurant. [More


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Unquestionable excellence questions the '80s

Review by Joanna Page 25th Feb 2012

Last night, Director Shane Bosher and his Top Girls cast took me back in time to 1980s England under Thatcher; when the shoulder pads were as sharp as cheekbones, and no one had heard of an iPhone. The music scene exploded with anthems and feel-good vibes, and businesswomen thought they were finally their male colleagues’ equals.

At the time, I thought the ’80s were awesome. Radical even. But looking back, as I did last night, I’m not so sure I was right.

That’s the whole point of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, which was first produced in 1982. It’s political and it addresses the conflict between the feminist movement and the stance of Britain’s first female Prime Minister. Pretty heavy, huh?

Well it is, and it isn’t.

The three-act play revolves around Marlene (Danielle Cormack), a London Recruitment Agent who has just been promoted to the Managing Director’s position – at the expense of a male colleague.

We first join her at the celebratory dinner she throws for an intriguing ensemble of strong female role models from throughout the ages. There’s Isabella Bird (Bronwyn Bradley), a 19th Century traveller and writer with plenty of health gripes; Lady Nijo (Nancy Brunning), a seemingly happy 13th Century Japanese concubine and Buddhist Nun; Dull Gret (Sophie Hambleton), an apron and armour-clad warrior; Pope Joan (Rima Te Wiata), the scholar who lived as a male and became Pope only to bear a child to one of her servants; and Patient Griselda (Rachel Forman), the obedient wife of the Marquis of Saluzzo.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the dinner party is really all in Marlene’s mind. Regardless, it is such an accurate portrayal of a girls’ night that the audience can easily be sitting at neighbouring tables. The women talk over each other, and about themselves … At times it is hard to follow, yet everyone’s story is told with laughter and tears.

Everyone’s except Marlene’s.

Then we move to Marlene’s present life where she shares an office with the driven Jeanine (Rachel Forman) and Win (Nancy Brunning) as they cut job applicants down to size and skirt around the issue of professional jealousy.

And we glimpse into Marlene’s past when Angie (Sophie Hambleton), her ‘slow’ niece, arrives to surprise her after fighting with her much-younger friend Kit (Abigail Greenwood) and her mother, Joyce (Bronwyn Bradley).

Act 3 pulls everything together.

It’s a complex play that seems perfectly suited to the Q space.  Simon Coleman’s set design is simplicity itself and captures the essence of the ’80s – even down to the glass mugs in the office. The dinner party is performed in the round, which works beautifully and adds to the ‘trippiness’ of the situation.

The set design is complemented by Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes. From pre-warrior classJapanto 1980s power dressing, she nails each period and class. Despite the range of styles – including The Pontiff’s garb – Joyce’s shoes steal the show for me.

Jason Smith’s sound design means that we can hear everyone clearly, no matter which side of the stage they face, and Jane Hakaraia’s lighting transports us to halogen-lit offices and drab working-class kitchens.

Put together, Top Girls is as slick as it can be.

As for the cast, I’ve seen a lot of shows but I’ve never seen a tighter team. Each actor plays beautifully off the others, and the sense of equality is palpable.

Danielle Cormack’s Marlene is as vulnerable as she is strong. She plays the one role while everyone else takes on multiples, yet her character is multi-faceted.

Bronwyn Bradley’s Isabella Bird is the antithesis of her Joyce. One is domineering and pioneering, the other downtrodden and quietly angry. She is powerful as both.

Lady Nijo is a tragic character in Nancy Brunning’s hands; tragic yet unquestioning, whereas her Win is as hard-arse as they come.

Dull Gret has little to say, yet plenty to do – a part that Sophie Hambleton seems to relish. As Angie she is heartbreakingly honest and vulnerable, so the question of her fate stays with you for hours afterwards.

I think Rima Te Wiata has a blast as Pope Joan. In spite of her sad end, she is hilarious, rambunctious and genuine. And I take my hat off to her for her Latin delivery (she’s a Pope after all). As the disgruntled job candidate, Louise, she is masterful in showing the character’s professionalism and simmering resentment for being passed over in favour of the men she’d trained.

Rachel Forman has a tough job as Patient Griselda. The character’s complete obedience to her husband is so beyond most people’s understanding that it’s hard to portray without coming across as being spineless. Yet she does. In contrast, her Recruitment Agent Nell is ballsy, glib, and a tad bitter.

Abigail Greenwood’s child-character Kit is so convincing you’ll want to pinch her cheeks – and a world away from job-seeking hopeful, Shona. It’s her non-speaking role as the waitress in Act 1 that really shows her skill – you’re aware of her, yet not distracted by her and with so much else going on, that’s almost impossible to achieve.

Top Girls really is about the divisions between classes and genders at the time when women still had to choose between careers and motherhood, and the glass ceiling was at knee-level. You’ll leave wondering how much has actually changed in 30 years.

Regardless of whether you want to enjoy Top Girls as great play, or you’re keen to delve into the political history it discusses, nobody could have done it better. Without question. 


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