Places: Top Girls

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1982

First produced: 1982, at the Royal Court Theatre, London

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early 1980’s

Places DiscussedRestaurant

Restaurant. Top GirlsFictional space outside time and place with a table set for dinner. Caryl Churchill’s realistic dialogue, with overlapping chatter and constant ordering from menus, grounds this surreal scene in naturalistic behavior in order to humanize the five characters who act as the various thematic voices within Marlene’s culturally splintered psyche. All six women travel to find adventure or notoriety, filling the scene with “true” tales of exotic globetrotting, all of which contrast with the depressing conditions of the women’s home lives within their different social structures. The expressionistic space of the restaurant itself may be seen as symbolizing Marlene’s feelings of isolation and loss, emotions she hides in work and drink. The consumption of this sumptuous meal contrasts with the apparent poverty in Joyce’s home.

“Top Girls” Employment Agency

“Top Girls” Employment Agency. Business in London run by Marlene. The spaces themselves are nondescript and colorless, suggesting corporate dehumanization and lack of maternal succor. Churchill staffs them only with upwardly mobile female managers in what would usually be viewed as a masculine field. This gender shift and destabilization is underlined by the ill health of Howard, the one male manager, who, like all men mentioned in the play, remains firmly offstage.

Joyce’s kitchen and backyard

Joyce’s kitchen and backyard. Small house in a country village, the childhood home of Joyce and Marlene and their working-class parents, situated near the town of Ipswich in Suffolk, about sixty miles east of London. The damp house, the junk-filled backyard, and the nearby fens provide the play’s most detailed environment, to contrast with the smart, tidy London offices. This naturalistic specificity explores the effects that such an environment has on women trapped in social roles, both those who remain and those who attempt to escape. The kitchen, often used to symbolize the female space, is instead the site of a political debate between the sisters and a head-on collision between capitalist individualism and the moral responsibilities of family and class identity.

BibliographyCousin, Geraldine. Churchill the Playwright. London: Methuen Drama, 1989. This study views Churchill’s plays in the context of her experimentations with collaborative productions, in which the author, actors, and director research, write, and develop a play together through a prerehearsal workshop period. Cousin examines Top Girls for the way in which it manipulates traditional time schemes and questions notions of achievement, success, and what Churchill considers “joy.”Fitzsimmons, Linda. File on Churchill. London: Methuen Drama, 1989. A comprehensive listing of Churchill’s plays, including unperformed ones, and selected review and comments from the playwright herself about her work. The general introduction and brief chronology are helpful. Includes a bibliography with selected play collections, essays, interviews, and secondary sources.Kritzer, Amelia Howe. The Plays of Caryl Churchill: Theatre of Empowerment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Written from a feminist perspective, this book opens with an overview of theories of theatre and drama and of feminist and socialist criticism in relation to Churchill’s plays. The chapter “Labour and Capital” analyzes Top Girls, Fen (1983), and Serious Money (1987) as characteristic of Churchill’s concern about the socioeconomic effects of Margaret Thatcher’s government and its conservative policies.Marohl, Joseph. “De-Realized Women: Performance and Gender in Top Girls.” Modern Drama 3 (September, 1987): 376-388. Marohl analyzes the play from the point of view of the battle between classes, emphasizing the socialist aspects more than the feminist ones.Randall, Phyllis R., ed. Caryl Churchill: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1988. A collection of essays, including one on Top Girls that comments on the challenge this play presents to feminists to realize that individual solutions are not successful and to confront the need to deal with the “larger contradictions created by a capitalistic patriarchy.”Thomas, Jane. “The Plays of Caryl Churchill: Essays in Refusal.” In The Death of the Playwright?, edited by Adrian Page. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This essay analyzes Top Girls and Cloud Nine (1979) in the light of Churchill’s acknowledged reading of Michel Foucault’s Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (1975; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1977).
Categories: Places