Director Claire Fogal talks ‘Top Girls’
By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor
You know we’re nearing the final weeks of the semester when Douglas College theatre productions get rolling. Nothing takes away the stresses of life better than some entertainment you can lose yourself in, and Douglas’ theatre performances have always fit the bill perfectly. The first of this semester’s plays is the Caryl Churchill-penned Top Girls, premiering this Friday in the Douglas College Studio Theatre. Top Girls is directed by Claire Fogal, and despite the craziness of final week preparations, Fogal took the time to talk with us about the upcoming show.
“Two of my long-time colleagues have directed here at Douglas College a lot over the past few years,” Fogal said. “I’ve been to see all their productions, and when Thrasso Petras [director of last fall’s Dangerous Corner] had to be away this term, my colleagues suggested me.
“It’s been a very rich and rewarding experience, directing here at Douglas. The entire team is fantastic: the actors, designers, technicians, crew—everyone is very committed to bringing the play to the highest level of fruition possible.”
Endearingly humble about her position in the grand scheme of things, Fogal opened up a bit more when it came time to talk about her selection of Top Girls. “Top Girls was one of the plays on the table when I signed on; the department liked it because it has so many great roles for women, and this year’s cohort is predominantly female. I was hoping Allan [Lysell, the Douglas theatre co-ordinator] would let me go ahead and do it because Caryl Churchill is one of my favourite playwrights. I’ve worked on various scenes over the years, but never had the chance to sink my teeth into the whole play. So when we decided to produce it, I was extremely excited!”
To elaborate, Top Girls tells the story of Marlene (portrayed by Megan Somerville), a career-driven woman who has finally returned to her family. Soon after, Marline begins dreaming of some of history and art’s most influential women, and in her dreams, discovers all her choices in life may not have been the best ones.
“The whole first scene is a dinner party with women from various eras meeting to celebrate the main character’s promotion at work. Pope Joan, who was thought to have been Pope in the ninth century (disguised as a man), and Dull Gret (from a painting by Brueghel in which a peasant woman leads her neighbouring housewives to battle the devils in Hell) are just two of these fascinating characters. Instead of staging this scene as an actual dinner party as is often done, we are treating it as a dream. This liberates us to have a lot of fun with the staging.”
Getting lost in entertainment is one thing, but actively following along as a work unfolds requires parts of ourselves we may not have anticipated using. With that in mind, Fogal closes out the interview with a few suggestions for viewers to consider while they watch the show.
“Though many elements of Top Girls are tragic, I don’t find the play depressing, but actually wildly enlivening. I believe the characters are not just falling apart, but breaking open as they realize how they have internalized oppression, and begin to discover the roots of their own freedom and power. Deepak Chopra says, ‘All great changes are preceded by chaos’ [as promoted in ads for the play]. With Top Girls, I feel Churchill aims to give us the brutal birth pangs that could lead to a whole new level of human society. Top Girls has been hailed as ‘the best British play ever from a woman dramatist’ (The Guardian, 1983).”
Friday night’s show is already sold out, but tickets are still available for the many performances happening from Saturday onwards. Tickets for students are only $8, so get them while you can!