Book Review: Top Girls (Caryl Churchill)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads

Publisher: Methuen Drama
Pages: 176
Release Date: July 15th 2008
Summary (From Goodreads):
Marlene hosts a dinner party in a London restaurant to celebrate her promotion to managing director of ‘Top Girls’ employment agency. Her guests are five women from the past: Isabella Bird (1831- 1904) – the adventurous traveller; Lady Nijo (b1258) – the mediaeval courtesan who became a Buddhist nun and travelled on foot through Japan; Dull Gret, who as Dulle Griet in a Bruegel painting, led a crowd of women on a charge through hell; Pope Joan – the transvestite early female pope and last but not least Patient Griselda, an obedient wife out of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. As the evening continues we are involved with the stories of all five women and the impending crisis in Marlene’s own life. A classic of contemporary theatre, Churchill’s play is seen as a landmark for a new generation of playwrights. It was premiered by the Royal Court in 1982.



Top Girls is a play that I have read previously (of course, being a drama student) but not for many years, so I was excited when Stacie picked it as her #RandomReads choice. I couldn’t really remember what I thought about it. I do sometimes find Caryl Churchill plays go a little over my head, a lot probably to do with the fact some are quite topical to eras that I know little about. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them though, and Vinegar Tom has always been a favourite of mine.This is a tricky one to review because I didn’t find it provoked feelings in me such as liking it, or disliking it, rather, it just made me think. While I read it, I didn’t really think too much of it: I wasn’t exactly bored, but I wasn’t really enjoying it either. But afterwards it stuck with me and I kept returning to it for days afterwards.I think I would have enjoyed watching this play more than reading it. There’s a lot of overlap in the conversations: while this may be truthful to real life, it sometimes made it confusing to read. I imagine it would work better in practice than me trying to do it in my head…

For me, Top Girls captured a lot of what it is to be a woman. In the first scene, all these famous women from history tell stories of their escapades. Some of it is comedic, some incredible and some upsetting. We see a lot of how men try to (and often do) control women in some horrendous stories. In others, women need to imitate men just to be taken seriously. Their children are used as weapons against them.

It’s difficult to pin down the underlying feeling of the play. It could be seen as depressing, how these women are made to suffer in ways men are not. While some is historical, we all know that feminism is an issue and equality is not here yet. It could be seen as hopeful, the way these women do incredible things despite all the odds that are stacked against them.

After reading this, I would really love to watch the play on stage and see how that compares to reading it.

My Verdict:

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