Top Girls

Theatre, West End
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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Top Girls
Top Girls

The boldest statement made by director Max Stafford-Clark in his immaculate revival of Caryl Churchill’s hallucinogenic social satire is not to monkey about with it.

‘Top Girls’ premiered in 1982 at the Royal Court under Stafford-Clark’s direction. It remains British theatre’s most potent and original broadside against Thatcherism. But it would have been easy to tune down the ’80s. True, Finn Ross’s eerily pretty projected backdrops offer a sense of dislocation, but the haircuts, power shoulders and incongruously jaunty period soundtrack leave us in no doubt of the time or place.

Churchill’s play dreamily details the rise and rise of businesswoman Marlene (a superb Suranne Jones). Inevitably, the direct parallels between Marlene and Maggie resonate less strongly in 2011. But in questioning whether feminism and capitalism can ever be squared, Churchill unerringly predicted the ‘culture of me’ that has come to define our present. Instead of coming over as ’80s kitsch, Out of Joint’s production suggests that ‘Top Girls’ pinpoints the exact moment success overtook compassion as the cardinal social virtue.

The first scene remains simple, cryptic, sad and hilarious. In a chic restaurant, newly appointed employment agency MD Marlene sits down to nouvelle cuisine with five formidable women from history and fiction: Pope Joan, Patient Griselda, Isabella Bird, Lady Nijo and Dull Gret.

Stafford-Clark directs with an almost kitchen-sink naturalism, as these women, culturally poles apart, attempt chit chat. It is very funny: Pope Joan gets smashed; Dull Gret shoves the bread basket into her loot sack. Yet there is a dawning realisation that each one has compromised herself terribly for her success. And why is suave, airy Marlene here? Is Churchill foreshadowing her fate? Or damning the shallowness of her ambition?

Later scenes delve into Marlene’s past and present: icily staring down the wife of a male rival; reluctantly interacting with her niece, sister and half-forgotten rural past; calmly hanging on to a horrible secret. In a strong all-female cast, Jones stands out, coldly charismatic but impossible to hate as a woman who has put aside much that makes her human for the sake of success. Can we blame her? Should a feminist shy away from power? Should any of us? Churchill and Stafford-Clark offer no answer – just a terrible warning.


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3.1 / 5

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ed the red

Dull, over acted, cliche ridden, implausible, unintelligent and thoroughly confused...unbelievably described as humorous. Feeble attempts to relate the role of women in a Thatcher's 80' power, punch or story. Bears no relation to the 80's or Thatcher or the role of women with no familiarity with anything that I remember.


Wonderful, funny, thought provoking play, with brilliant acting. I'd thoroughly recommend it.


An amzaing play. Brilliantly written and directed. A real gem!


Good acting. The operatic technique of more than one person speaking at he same time was impressive as were some of the speech patters, howvever the story lacked any real depth with the exception of the last act and in particular the heated engagement between the two contrasted sisters.


I saw this play last night and loved it. It is still so relevant today. Top class acting, great dialogue, lots to think about. This is such a great play in so many ways, and this production of it is excellent. I might go and see it again actually!


Miranda, thou doth seem touched. The play's the thing. It is indeed worthy in its ambition, but should have remained remaindered.Good actors wasted on a corpse. We must agree to differ on what is a great night out - if it has to be endured. A joy it was not.

Miranda Grell

I went to see Top Girls last night and thought it was absolutely brilliant. So many issues to think about all in one. The first Act was not just about women making idle chitter chatter but had a serious underlying point to make about how badly many of these women (and women in general) have been treated - having their children stolen away, etc. Acts two and three were even better. Suranne Jones was superb and it really made the audience think about the contradictions women faced (and still face) in the 80s. Compassion or success? Family or career? All the wonderful actors had magnificent presence and were a joy to watch. This play was worth every penny of the ticket price.


Andrej, if this is the best thing you have seen this year, they are clearly not paying you enough...the acting was not experimental or weird it was simply poor. the direction was limp and stuttering and you most certainly oversold it. The money was the least of my worries...we had scoured the reviews for a great night out to treat my daughter and her boyfriend. Your over excitement at a mediocre revival of a trivial bit of pap merely left me disconcerted at what constitutes a great night out in the West End. Ken Tynan must be spinning in his proverbial. Just up your standards dear boy and do us all a favour.


@Dicko It's a shame you spent the full whack when there are some pretty hefty offers on at the moment (probably a sign that the show is a hard sell, regardless of reviews), but yes, I think it's fair to say 'Top Girls' isn't for everyone - there were several walk outs when I saw it. It's one of those plays that's acquired a towering reputation but is always going to remain too fundamentally experimental/weird for a lot of people. Which is not to suggest there's anything wrong with not liking it - in a way I'm not sure how good a fit it really is on the West End, as opposed to one of the subsidised theatres. But there's not a conspiracy of theatre critics out there - bar 'London Road' this is the best thing I've seen this year.


What show were you reviewing? We shelled out our £57 including booking fee and then baked in 80s temperatures as Max Stafford Clarke lazily revived a wooden, disjointed, banal set of self-conscious tableaux which wasn't much cop in the 80s and now is just a rip off. How TO, Standard and Guardian all seem to have been suckered into thinking this puppetry still has resonance defies belief. we felt cheated and walked after act Three. you had your chance Caryl. if I don't care what happens to anyone by Act 4 it's a FAIL....