Caryl Churchill’s daring response to the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the long history of women who have made it to the top in a man's world
Top Girls is ground-breaking playwright Caryl Churchill’s daring response to the rise of Margaret Thatcher. Yet its subject of female power is as pertinent today as it was in the 1980s. One of 20th century’s classic plays, Top Girls finds a perfect match in the uncompromising Jenny Kemp, who will direct an all-female cast, including Anita Hegh and Nikki Shiels.
Nikki, starring in three roles as Patient Griselda, the lonely and confused Jeanine, and Nell, a young woman working at an employment agency, spoke with Time Out ahead of rehearsals.
Nikki, the play questions different ideas about what "success" can mean, particularly the idea of "success" as a "career woman". What is your own idea of success?
Firstly, I do not consider myself a "career woman" like some of the characters in Churchill's play. I am an artist. So, in my mind a successful career is one where I am able to continue tackling new projects that challenge and excite me, where in each piece of work my skills are being extended. Always learning and developing as an actor.
But as you move to each new project are you conscious of the stark distinction between personal advancement and community responsibility described in Churchill's play?
I am conscious of the options of personal advancement and community responsibility. However, the choice is not as stark for me. I value both, and invest myself accordingly. It is important to me to apply myself and do the best job I can in my work, but I also value my personal and community responsibilities. Both enrich me in different ways, so finding that balance is key.
Are there any historical "top girls" who have influenced or inspired you over the years?
Growing up I was always attracted to fearless, intelligent, independent women who broke away from the social conventions of their time. Women like Katherine Hepburn, Florence Broadhurst and Queen Elizabeth I.
What is it like working with director Jenny Kemp?
Jenny works from a place of fierce cerebral and emotional intelligence. In the rehearsal process she creates frameworks for her actors to follow their instincts and connect deeply to the material. She has immense theatrical instinct and shapes in detail exactly what the work needs in order to best communicate the story.
Top Girls, Melbourne Theatre Company, 25 Aug-29 Sep.