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Top Girls


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A: Caryl Churchill Pf: 1982; London Pb: 1982; rev. 1984 G: Pol. drama in 2 acts S: Restaurant and employment agency office, London, and Joyce's home, rural England, early 1980s C: 16fMarlene celebrates her promotion to manager of the Top Girls Employment Agency by inviting to a meal a curious selection of female guests drawn from history and legend. The Victorian explorer Isabella Bird, the 9th-century Pope Joan, and the belligerent peasant woman Dull Gret from Brueghel's painting are distinguished for fulfilling normally male roles; the 13th-century Japanese courtesan Lady Nijo and the legendary Patient Griselda, who tolerated unbelievable cruelty from her husband, represent suffering but resilient women. Marlene interviews a candidate for a dead-end secretarial job. Two teenage girls, Angie and Kit, discuss sex and the threat of nuclear war. Angie plans to leave her mother Joyce to visit her aunt in London. She duly arrives at Marlene's office, where her aunt is surprised to see her but allows her to stay. Mrs Kidd, wife of Howard, one of Marlene's employees, comes to complain about Marlene's promotion over his head: ‘What's it going to do for him working for a woman?’ Howard has a heart attack, and Marlene tells her clever, well-educated assistants that Angie is ‘not going to make it’. A year earlier, Marlene visits her sister Joyce. It turns out that Marlene is Angie's real mother, and that, with some resentment, Joyce has brought her up, so that Marlene could have a successful career.

A: Caryl Churchill Pf: 1982; London Pb: 1982; rev. 1984 G: Pol. drama in 2 acts S: Restaurant and employment agency office, London, and Joyce's home, rural England, early 1980s C: 16f

After its curiously surreal first scene, Top Girls becomes a wholly naturalistic piece about the new type of achieving woman, embodied and promoted by Margaret Thatcher. With an honesty that upset radical feminists, Churchill showed how characters like Marlene could become even more ruthless than men (‘I believe in the individual. Look at me’); only Joyce's semi-articulate socialism can provide an answer to Angie's final word: ‘Frightening.’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Authors

Caryl Churchill (b. 1938) English dramatist


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