Appreciating the fruits of Jude Law's labour: Anna Christie
Broken Glass brilliance @tricycletheatre

Top Girls not quite top play

651308-I-LS_topgirls_l Caryl Churchill's Top Girls is a bit of a rarity in that it is a play entirely made up of female characters. It is, therefore, a little disappointing that it hasn't aged very well.

It's nearly 30 years since it was first performed earning plaudits for being a commentary on Thatcher's Britain.

It's central character Marlene has just been given the top job at a recruitment agency over a man. The play starts with Marlene celebrating her promotion with a fantasy dinner party in which she is joined by various historic and literary figures - Pope Joan, Dull Gret and Lady Nijo to name just three.

The subsequent acts then flit back and forth from the time before the promotion and just after it, examining her relationship with her female co-workers and the poor relatives she left behind - and there is a skeleton in the closet there of course.

My first issue is the opening scene in which many of the characters talked over each other, sometimes arguing. In a crucial opening scene when you are getting measure of  the play it was just alienating and frustrating because they seemed to have interesting things to say but you couldn't really hear them.

But that is a relatively minor thing compared to the play itself. Many of the issues it raises just seem dated. Marlene (Suranne Jones) is a slightly cold, aloof and hard-nosed business woman and has sacrificed having a family for her career. The message seems to be that you can't have both which just isn't true any more.

While talking about Top Girls for the As Yet Untitled London Theatre podcast on Sunday evening @TRPW (which you can listen to here) highlighted the pivotal scene which ages the play. The wife of the man who has been passed over for promotion visits Marlene to ask her to step down and give her husband the job, because, well, he's a man and he deserves it. That might have just about been believable in 1982 but in 2011...

So in essence I'm not sure what I was supposed to take away from this. There is still some sexism in the work place but without men in the play it is only fleetingly implied so that can't be it. What it does really say, in a 21st century context, is that there are woeful few plays by women and predominantly about women that reflect contemporary issues.

Top Girls can't be faulted for its production and acting from the great cast which, as well as Jones, included the likes of Catherine McCormack, Stella Gonet and Olivia Poulet. It is just the play. I was a child/teenager through the 80s so perhaps it's a generational thing, I've been lucky and had far more choices.

It runs at the Trafalgar Studios 1 until 29 October and I'm going to give it 3 stars.


No direct connections that I can see but Laura Elphinstone was in the film of The History Boys which of course starred the lovel Samuel Barnett who has appeared on stage with Mr W in His Dark Materials and on film in Bright Star.