Actress Caroline Catz is asking women some difficult questions as she takes to the West Yorkshire Playhouse stage in Top Girls.
Caroline, who plays Louisa in ITV’s hit comedy drama Doc Martin, is starring as the ruthless Marlene in the play that tells her story of becoming a successful businesswoman – and the sacrifices she made along the way.
After sell-outs in the Chichester Festival and the West End, Caryl Churchill’s story of gender discrimination has come to West Yorkshire under the direction of Max Stafford-Clark, artistic director for theatre company Out Of Joint.
Set in 1982, in Margaret Thatcher’s England, the play starts with Marlene celebrating a promotion to managing director at the employment agency Top Girls.
Caroline said: “It’s a wonderful play with a fantastic opening scene. It begins when Marlene is celebrating her promotion and she wants to celebrate with all those women who have inspired her throughout history.
“She is quite an extreme character and quite a formidable person and pretty ruthless.
“But part of that hardness is to do with what she’s had to give up after coming from what she considers to be a deprived background.
“This character is very different to Louisa, who isn’t a particularly aggressive character, but I do enjoy characters that have a difficult side.”
Marlene celebrates the promotion with a group of historic women who have struggled in repressive regimes, including the legendary female Pope Jean from the middle ages.
The play then goes back in time through her story, and tells the different story of her sister who she left behind with their roots in rural Suffolk.
Caroline said: “The play came from an era where people were thinking that the only way of getting to the top was by trampling over each other to get there.
“My character really represents the question ‘how do we measure success?’
“Although she may have got to the top of her business, what has she had to sacrifice to get there? Have we really got it right?
“It’s a very controversial play – it asks some difficult questions.”
Caroline, who has also starred in TV dramas The Vice and Murder in Suburbia, said Top Girls had first inspired her to become an actress.
Told through three separate stories that come together for a final ‘twist’, the play keeps the audience guessing – which they get to tell the actors all about in question and answer sessions after each venue’s first showing.
Caroline said: “It’s interesting because people really have engaged and really wanted to talk about it. But it is unusual because you don’t often get to hear what people think - sometimes it’s a bit daunting because you think ‘oh I never thought of it that way’.
“I would say the play is completely relevant to today, elements of Thatcherism are all around us, with the cuts to public services and times being hard.
“By the 80s when the play came out there were more women with university places and a lot more subversive women.
“But I think 30 years on we are still in a similar situation.
“The poverty gap has widened and women are still ridiculously being paid a third less than men, not much has changed at all.
“It’s a fantastic play, we’ve have a really great response.”
Top Girls kicked off at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Tuesday and is performing every evening except Sunday until Saturday, March 10, at 7.45pm.
Matinee performances are on Thursday, March 8, at 2pm, and tomorrow and Saturday, March 10, at 2.30pm.
Tickets cost between £17 and £27 with concessions available. Visit www.wyp.org.uk or call 0113 2137700 for tickets.
Check www.wakefieldexpress.co.uk for a review of the show.