Play by Caryl Churchill. It's Thatcher's England and hard-nosed, go-getting businesswoman Marlene is hosting a dinner party to celebrate her promotion to MD of the Top Girls Employment Agency. Her guests - all powerful women from myth and history - make for an extraordinary gathering. A provocative study of success, and what happens to those who get left behind.
Original London Production (Royal Court Theatre) - 1982
Previewed 28 August 1982, Opened 1 September 1982, Closed 9 October 1982 at the Royal Court Theatre in London
Previewed 4 February 1983, Opened 8 February 1983, Closed 19 March 1983 at the Royal Court Theatre in London
The cast featured Gwen Taylor as 'Marlene', Selina Cadell, Lindsay Duncan, Deborah Findley, Carole Hayman, Lesley Manville and Lou Wakefield. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark with sets by Peter Hartwell, costumes by Pam Tait and lighting by Robin Myerscough-Walker.
This production was originally due to start public previews from 20 August 1982 with an official opening on 24 August 1982, but this was delayed when, nine days before it was due to open, the director Max Stafford-Clark fired Lynn Dearth who has been due to play the lead role of 'Marlene' and was replaced by Gwen Taylor.
Between the two original Royal Court Seasons, this production was presented in New York at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre with the original cast for a four week run. Following the second Royal Court Theatre season, the production then returned to the Joseph Papp Public Theatre for a ten-week run with a new cast.
London Revival (Royal Court Theatre) - 1991
Previewed 10 April 1991, Opened 15 April 1991, Closed 15 June 1991 at the Royal Court Theatre in London
The cast featured Lesley Manville as 'Marlene', Deborah Findley, Beth Goddard, Cecily Hobb, Sarah Lam, Anna Patrick and Lesley Sharp. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark with sets by Anabel Temple, costumes by Pam Tait and lighting by Steve Whitson.
Both Lesley Manville and Deborah Findley had appeared in the original production, though only Deborah Findlay was reprising the same role - that of 'Isabelle Bird / Joyce / Mrs Kidd'.
Original West End Production (Aldwych Theatre) - 2002
Previewed 8 January 2002, Opened 9 January 2002, Closed 2 February 2002 at the Aldwych Theatre in London
The twentieth anniversary production of Caryl Churchill's 1982 play Top Girls in London directed by Thea Sharrock.
The cast features Hattie Ladbury as 'Marlene' along with Helen Anderson, Elizabeth Berrington, Pascale Burgess, Tameka Empson, Joanna Scanlon and Sophie Shaw. Directed by Thea Sharrock with designs by Rachel Blues, lighting by Johanna Town and sound by Mic Pool.
"The originality of Caryl Churchill's work takes the breath away, again and again. Imagination nerve - and authority. Nineteen years on, her play Top Girls now looks a modern classic... When Top Girls had its last big London revival in 1990, it seemed perfect but slick: so clever as to be not quite true. Top Girls criticises Thatcherism and the Thatcher government's failure of the weaker elements of society, and what staggers me is that this aspect of the play seems today yet more relevant. And the whole play seems more timeless, less contrived... This production, directed by Thea Sharrock and brought to the West End by the James Menzies-Kitchin Memorial Trust, is a major event. It's seven little-known actors all announce themselves as important performers of serious accomplishment. Rachel Blues emerges as a designer of poetic originality worthy of Churchill's play... The trans-historical dinner party of Act One revolves, memorably, and the women all speak across each other, brilliantly; and, from then on, stage space and stage rhythm change eloquently from scene to scene. The production leaves us, finally, with a poetic sense of mystery." The Financial Times
"Caryl Churchill's celebrated play about feminism in the '80s gets a welcome revival on its 20th anniversary. It may look a tad dated now Mrs Thatcher is no longer at No 10, but it is never dull. The all-female cast of seven is led by Hattie Ladbury as ball-breaker Marlene... In the powerful final act she returns to her humble roots where the cost of her climb up the career ladder is revealed. Top-drawer stuff." The Daily Mirror
"Just as Peter Brook is about to stage Caryl Churchill's latest tremendous play, Far Away, the first by a living English playwright to be directed by him in his theatre in Paris, the Oxford Stage Company sweeps into the West End with this riveting earlier play, in a riveting production by Thea Sharrock... Top Girls is usually thought of as a feminist play, but that is far too narrow a definition. Churchill is not on the campaign trail; she is neither demanding nor offering anything. No, this is a play about the feminine condition.... History, imagination and the hard-bitten, hard-hearted present echo each other obliquely, teasingly, but eloquently. There is no such thing as free success. Freedom has a price, mostly paid for by those who do not have it. It is not enough to say that to succeed you have to be like a man. Is there an answer? Like all humane and subversive dramatists, Churchill leaves you to think for yourself." The Sunday Times
"Caryl Churchill's play, Top Girls, made a splash at the Royal Court where it was first staged in 1982... I can understand why, for it must have seemed such a bold, inventive scrutiny of where feminism had got to then. But Thea Sharrock's confident revival at the Aldwych can't disguise that it is also tiresome, contrived, underpowered, overstated and out-of-date. Moreover, it takes two-and-a-half hours before its unsteady grip moves from one's head to one's heart. It begins with a surreal dinner party hosted by Marlene to celebrate her promotion, above the men in the company, in an employment agency... In the second act, we see emancipated Marlene at work, proving herself better than the blokes. The third part reveals the price of her success, how pushy Marlene got on her Thatcherite bike and left East Anglia, leaving her sister to bring up her backward and inconvenient daughter. It's a bleak picture, in which Eighties top girls are shown to behave just as men always have, trampling on the weak in their race onwards and upwards. A night out for students of feminism and theatrical historians only." The Mail on Sunday
Top Girls in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 8 January 2002, opened on 9 January 2002 and closed on 2 February 2002.
1st West End Revival (Trafalgar Studios) - 2011
Previewed 5 August 2011, Opened 16 August 2011, Closed 29 October 2011 at the Trafalgar Studio 1 in London
The cast features Suranne Jones as 'Marlene', Lucy Briers, Laura Elphinstone, Stella Gonet, Lisa Kerr, Catherine McCormack and Olivia Poulet. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark with designs by Tim Shortall, lighting by Jason Taylor, sound by Ian Dickinson and video design by Finn Ross. It is presented in London as a co-production between Out of Joint and the Chichester Festival Theatre where this revival was originally seen (previewed from 23 June 2011, opened on 30 June 2011 and closed on 16 July 2011).
EXTENDED: This production, which was originally scheduled to close on 15 October 2011, has now been extended by one week, up to 29 October 2011.
"Marlene says there's no more working class, just people too 'stupid, lazy or frightened' to succeed. The 1980s are "going to be stupendous". In the boondocks beyond Ipswich her sister Joyce is a cleaner, a single mother, not stupendous. Joyce's dim teenage daughter Angie is mesmerised by her successful aunt, who is CEO of an employment agency. The fascination is not mutual. The weakest will go to the wall, for this is the dawn of Thatcher's Britain as satirised by Caryl Churchill in her 1982 play. It is a bit of history, too, because its director Max Stafford-Clark directed the original Royal Court production and returns, offering a new generation its clever, angry take on capitalism and women." The Times
"It poses the tirelessly pertinent question: Can a woman have it all? And, if so, at what price to herself and to society?... Top Girls eloquently makes the point that if women are going to get to the top and stay there, they will probably have to sacrifice their maternal instinct and behave as ruthlessly as men, or even more so. Nor are they all sisters under the skin. 'I believe in the individual. Look at me,' Marlene says. Shoulder pads aside, Max Stafford-Clark's superbly directed, well-acted production makes this a penetrating, provocative play for today." The Mail on Sunday
Top Girls in London at the Trafalgar Studios 1 previewed from 5 August 2011, opened on 16 August 2011 and closed on 29 October 2011