Top Girls is one of Caryl Churchill’s most well known plays. It premiered at the Royal Court Theater in London on August 28, 1982, and won the Obie Award for Best Play of the Year. In its first run at the Royal Court, the cast included Gwen Taylor as Marlene; Deborah Findlay as Isabella Bird, Joyce, and Mrs. Kidd; Lindsay Duncan as Lady Nijo and Win; Carole Hayman as Dull Gret and Angie; Selina Cadell as Pope Joan and Louise; Lesley Manville as Patient Griselda, Nell, and Jeanine; and Lou Wakefield as the Waitress, Kit and Shona.
Cary Churchill wrote Top Girls as a response to Margaret Thatcher, who served as Britain’s right-wing Prime Minister from 1979-1990. The play is set in London during the early 1980s, and tells the story of Marlene, a successful entrepreneur. In the famous first scene, she hosts a surreal dinner party featuring notable proto- feminists from different moments in history. Their stories present common themes of women struggling against an oppressive patriarchy.
Right before she wrote Top Girls, Churchill had visited America and met many women excited by the new opportunities available to them as a result of feminism. Churchill embraced this idea but was also skeptical of whether or not these opportunities would actually be a victory for feminism. In Top Girls, she criticizes the extreme individualism and hyper professionalism that capitalist society valued. The play is particularly concerned with the tendency of 1980’s feminism to equate liberation with financial and professional success, especially since this archetype often excluded working class women. Top Girls was a critical success from its opening run, and has been staged by many prominent theater companies in London and New York over the past 30 years.