Play explores women's roles

By Denise Montgomery


For many women, you can't beat a good dinner party. And when the hostess is picking up the tab, all the better.

Top Girls is a 1980s play by Caryl Churchill that focuses on a night in which high-flying Marlene, who has landed a top job, celebrates with a bunch of her friends.

It's being put on by Silo Theatre Company at Q Theatre with a stellar cast: Danielle Cormack plays Marlene, supported by Rima Te Wiata, Nancy Brunning and Bronwyn Bradley. Apart from Cormack all play more than one role - Bronwyn plays three.

The Aucklander caught up with Bronwyn (Go Girls, Bro'Town) in a mad dash between dropping the kids at school and heading to rehearsals, and time is tight.

That situation seems appropriate given the play's themes. Although Top Girls is set in the UK during the reign of Margaret Thatcher, and was first performed in 1984, most of its issues are still relevant.

"It's a play about women and their roles," explains Bradley.

"One of my characters is Joyce, Marlene's sister. She's a working class woman who is the essence of what Marlene has left behind in her rise to the top.

"She is a mother but some of the other women in the play have had to give up on the idea of motherhood for their careers or have lost their children. There are parallel themes of career and motherhood."

The play encourages the audience to reflect on how far women have come and what sacrifices are still being made.

"I align myself with all the characters in some way," says Bronwyn, who also plays voluble showoff Isabelle Bird, a Victorian traveller, and wife Rosemary Kidd.

"Lots of people say, 'It's set in the 80s, is it still relevant?' but it's still hugely relevant. Society and women still face the same issues.

"I'm a wife, mother, sister and have a career so it's a juggling act, like it is for so many women. I have it easier than many with a good husband to help, but we still end up trying to do so much. I guess it's a case of being careful what you wish for."

Bronwyn, 41, lives in Point Chevalier and is married to actor-comedian Dave Fane. The couple have three children - daughter Mile, 14, and sons Harry 10 and Seleti, five.

"I tell my daughter she can be whatever she wants to be," says Bronwyn, ignoring any idea that a glass ceiling may influence her child's destiny. "I got that from my own mother who was amazing.

"My mother had me in her 40s. I was the seventh of seven children and her generation said to their daughters they could do whatever they wanted, and if they didn't say it, it was implicit."

Bronwyn says that attitude differed greatly from when her mother's generation was raised, so she has treated the encouragement from her mother "like a gift".

But she acknowledges - as the play does - that having all the options open to them may have complicated women's lives.

"What is interesting for me, and I am sure all women, is: 'How can you do everything? How can you have a great career, be a great wife and fab mum, dish up nutritious meals, be a taxi driver and do all these things?' It's a crazy treadmill and it's a universal experience whether women have kids or not - they still try to do a lot of things.

"Perhaps we need to put ourselves under the microscope a bit and go a little bit easier on ourselves."

She says men are better at "compartmentalising". "They say 'I am going to do this now, do that next and do that next'. Women try to do everything at once."

Top Girls was groundbreaking, a play set to provoke and challenge themes of success and wealth, feminism and independence. It has been performed once before in Auckland, in 1984, when Jennifer Ward-Lealand took the lead role.

Its ongoing relevance was commented on last year in The Guardian, when Michael Billington reflected that "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."

Bronwyn agrees. "It's set in a time of Britain's first woman PM yet we still consider it important to note that Australia has its first woman Prime Minister and the US has its first black president - it would be great if we didn't even have to notice these things, that they were just natural occurrences."

So perhaps we shouldn't notice that the play has an all-women cast?

"Yes well, it's great to be in a play that's a full cast of women," she says. "The director [Shane Bosher] says there are only about three where that's the case. We do talk about men though!"

WHAT Top Girls

WHERE Rangatira at Q Theatre, 305 Queen St

WHEN February 23-March 17. Mon-Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8pm

HOW MUCH $25-$59

WEB silotheatre.co.nz/top-girls and www.qtheatre.co.nz

- THE AUCKLANDER

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