Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

If you were asked to list female dramatists, I wonder how many you could name. It is astonishing isn’t it? I would be surprised if you managed two or three. It is a bit the same with crossword compilers, prime ministers, philosophers and, of course, military generals. However, it isn’t true of childminders, waitresses, cleaners or concubines.

In one sense, that is what Caryl Churchill’s play is saying. Her three acts do not appear in chronological order of the events they portray, so she is certainly not presenting us with a traditional play about character development in the context of events.

In Act one, five women of note from various epochs of history are dining and drinking with Marlene in a restaurant (the silent subservient waitress is there too!) They are celebrating her appointment to the head of the Top Girls employment agency. Their own stories are also stories of female triumphs, but in contexts where they were almost slaves, reluctant wives or exploited peasants.

Act Two presents us with interviews in the agency at the start of the Thatcher period of monetarism. There is a certain ruthlessness about the three interviewers who are successful in their world – a world still defined by male terms. The women who are interviewed, and the wife of the man who was passed over when Marlene was appointed, present a range of different attitudes to the positions and roles of women at the start of the eighties (now too, perhaps!)

We also meet Angie, a resentful sixteen-year-old who is not ‘going anywhere’ and hear her harrassed ‘mother’ Joyce.

The final act, which takes place a year earlier, fits together some of the pieces of the jigsaw for us and really leaves us reflecting on what we have experienced.  This is provocative theatre with a difference, not the conflict and crisis of the male tragedies and dramas we have been reared on but a feminine voice that makes us think.