Approaching plays
Approaching plays

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Approaching plays

7.4 Doubling

The cast list for the first performance of Top Girls at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 1982 indicates that six of the actors played two or more roles each; only one actor had a single role, that of Marlene. This doubling is also used in a BBC recording of the play, but it is not prescribed by the playwright, Caryl Churchill, who in fact has reservations about its desirability.

Activity 17

What are the implications of having two characters played by the same actor?

Discussion

The physical similarity suggests that there is some similarity between the characters; the audience is bound to look for comparisons and contrasts, which may be illuminating, but which may also be a distraction or invalid. Even though the doubling may be dictated by the need for economy, or by the desire to give actors a more substantial part to play, there may also be aesthetic issues at stake. This is less likely in a large-cast play where there are a number of ‘bit’ parts to be covered, but in a play like Top Girls, where each character is allowed to establish her own identity, the doubling of parts will be of significance. For instance, having the same actor play Dull Gret and Angie draws attention to their underprivileged social position and to their difficulties in articulation. But because Gret is able to assert herself at the end of the first scene, this underlines Angie's achievement in making the trip alone and unaided to London, and hints that maybe Marlene's prediction that the most she can expect out of life is to stack supermarket shelves is unduly pessimistic.

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