Top Girls

Top Girls Summary and Analysis of Act 2, Scene 3


Act 2, Scene 3 is set in the Top Girls Employment Agency on a Monday morning. Win and Nell are drinking coffee and chatting about their weekends. Win tells Nell that she hooked up with a married man in West Sussex who has a fabulous rose garden. His wife was visiting her mother at the time. They mention their colleague Howard, who was being considered for the promotion that Marlene won, and say he expected to get it simply because he is a man. They think Howard will leave the company because of the disappointment of being outdone by his female colleague. Nell and Win go on to gossip about several of their male colleagues, whom they find incompetent. Nell says she slept with two different men over the weekend and watched television on Sunday evening. One man, Derek, asked her again to marry him and she refused. The women mention a prospective female client who seems to be a “tough bird” like them, and thus has potential.

Marlene arrives late, and Nell and Win applaud her for her promotion. They joke about Howard’s resentment of Marlene and suggest that his ulcers and heart will only get worse, suggesting that he should probably retire. Nell mentions Win’s affair with a disapproving tone. She jokes that she’ll “tell the wife” and Win says that if her beau's wife were to find out, she would end the affair immediately. Nell jokes that Marlene will end up becoming the head of the agency before long, and Marlene asks if Nell fells bad about it. Nell replies that she doesn’t “like coming second” and Marlene asks, “Who does?” A break in the scene occurs with Win and Nell again congratulating Marlene on her promotion.

After the break, Win interviews Louise. Louise has been loyal to her current job for twenty-one years, earning a “respectable” salary, but feels like it’s time to “move on.” Louise is 46 years old, and Win feels that her advanced age will make it tougher to find Louise a new position. Win pushes Louise to reveal her reasons for leaving her current job, wondering if she is the victim of complicated office politics, which Louise assures Win is not the case. Instead, Louise says, she has had no personal life due to her sustained commitment to the job, but has watched as younger men are consistently being promoted to better positions while she is never considered.

Louise says that she is the only woman at her company now, there was one younger woman who took a job with a competitor and is now a board member. Louise suggests that the younger woman is cut from a different cloth, a member of this new generation of professionalized women who embrace a “new kind of attractive well-dressed” and aren’t as “careful.” Meanwhile, Louise says, she has had to “justify [her] existence every minute” on her job. Win believes that some companies may value Louise's experience but they are more likely to hire younger men. She tells Louise not to talk too much during a job interview, and asks her if she drinks. Lousie says no, although she isn’t a “teetotaler” because it complete abstinence makes people think she is a recovering alcoholic.

After the break, the setting changes to the main office of Top Girls, where Marlene is seated at her desk. Angie walks in and, at first, Marlene asks if she has an appointment, not recognizing her niece for a moment. Marlene is confused as to why Angie is there - it is clear they have not seen one another for a long time. Angie tells her aunt that she has quit school and left her mother behind. She has come to London on a one-way ticket and is hoping to stay with Marlene. Angie begins asking Marlene about her job, and Marlene tells her she’s about to move the following week into a new, nicer office as part of her promotion. Angie says she always knew Marlene would “be in charge of everything” and asks if she can see the office next week. Marlene realizes that Angie intends to stay for a while, and wonders if Joyce knows where Angie is. Angie gets upset, tells her not to worry about it, and that she won’t ask to stay with Marlene if it isn’t ok. Marlene relents and allows Angie to stay, and Mrs. Kidd comes into the room.

Mrs. Kidd is Howard Kidd’s wife, and at first, Marlene thinks she is looking for her husband. It turns out that Mrs. Kidd is there to see Marlene. She claims that Howard has been a nervous wreck after Marlene got promoted instead of him and asks Marlene to withdraw from the promotion and allow Howard to move up instead. Mrs. Kidd argues that unlike Marlene, Howard has a family to support and has worked at the company longer. Marlene responds by saying that if Howard doesn’t like what’s happening at the company, he should perhaps work elsewhere. Mrs. Kidd calls Marlene “one of those ballbreakers” and tells her she’ll end up “miserable and lonely.” Marlene tells the other woman to piss off. Angie witnesses this exchange and is impressed. She decides to stay in the office instead of going sightseeing, and Marlene allows her to sit at Win's desk.

Meanwhile, Nell is interviewing Shona, who claims to be twenty-nine and has been working at her current sales job for four years, earning good money. Shona’s job keeps her constantly on the road, which she enjoys but Shona still wants a change, and possibly a higher title. Nell tells Shona that because she is a woman, employers will be concerned that she may not have the ability to “close” deals - since women are generally too considerate of buyers’ feelings. Shona says she’s not very nice, and that she’s a bit of a loner with an interest in computers. Nell mentions some openings, but also suggests that Shona might a good employee for the Top Girls agency. Nell then presses Shona about her current job and personal life. Shona delivers a far-fetched story about driving a Porsche to cities outside of London, selling dishwashers, washing machines, fridges, etc. and staying in hotels on the company’s expense account. Nell realizes Shona has been lying. Shona finally admits that she is only twenty-one and has no previous job experience. Nell is frustrated, and calls the interview a waste of time.

Win enters the main office to find Angie seated at her desk. Angie asks if Win has always worked at the agency, and Win tells her she was headhunted from another company. Win compliments Marlene and Angie wonders if she could ever work at Top Girls - but she has no education and no experience. Win shares her own story with Angie - she earned a science degree and worked in medical research, quit, moved to California and then Mexico, and "went bonkers” for a while, having to move home and see a psychiatrist for a bit. She mentions getting married in a “moment of weakness” and that her husband has been in jail for four years. However, Angie has falls asleep during Win's story, and Nell comes into the office. She tells Win that Howard’s just had a heart attack and been rushed to the hospital. Marlene comes into the office and sees her sleeping niece. Win tells Marlene that Angie wants to work at Top Girls, and Marlene replies bluntly, “Packer in Tesco more like.” Win thinks Angie is a nice kid, but Marlene describes her as “a bit thick…a bit funny”.


Act 2, Scene 3 contains a series of interviews and conversations between working women, through which Churchill explores the repercussions of feminism and increased professional opportunities in 1970s Britain. During this decade, a significant amount of legislation was passed addressing abortion rights, divorce, equal pay in the workplace, and sex discrimination. These legal measures, along with the cultural and political effects of the Women’s Rights movement made 1970s a watershed era for increased independence and financial opportunity among women. Churchill’s play nonetheless recognizes that despite these gains, many women continued to face uphill struggles in their work and domestic lives, because of continued gender discrimination as well as the prominent class divide.

Marlene is the clearest example of a professional and accomplished “new woman” who is motivated first and foremost by her career ambitions, and not interested in family. Win and Nell are also part of Marlene's world, where women compete directly with men and in some cases, win promotions over them (like Marlene and Howard). When Win and Nell are discussing their weekends, both women indicate a level of indifference towards romantic relationships. Nell goes out with one man on Friday and another on Saturday, while Win is involved in a playful affair with a married man that she has no qualms about abandoning if his wife finds out. They consider themselves to be bright and capable women, working competently in a professional world, happily independent. Churchill portrays the environment of ambition amongst the female "Top Girls" employees when Marlene enters the office. Both Win and Nell women applaud her new promotion, while simultaneously admitting their envy – Nell tells Marlene she doesn’t like “coming second” and Marlene dryly asks her “Who does?”

This conversation, coupled with the interviews that Win and Nell conduct later, illustrates the fact that despite the surge of feminist thought in the 1960s and 70s, women’s opportunities for professional advancement and economic freedom remained extremely limited. Marlene, Nell, and Win are exceptions to this rule because they have given up certain vestiges of stereotypical womanhood - like husbands and children. They also recognize that they are different from most women. When Win refers to one of their potential employees as a “Tough bird like us,” Nell responds that they “could do with a few more here.” Win’s interview with Louise later reveals that despite her experience and talents, Louise’s age and gender severely cripples her chances at getting a job, because employers simply prefer to hire younger men. Meanwhile, Win interviews Shona and decides that it is an utter “waste of time” since Shona in fact has no concrete experience in the workplace, despite ambitious nature which led Nell to suggest Shona might be a good employee at Top Girls.

Marlene’s conversation with Mrs. Kidd alludes to the social backlash against professional, working women that had started to bubble up during Churchill's time. Mrs. Kidd - a completely unsympathetic character - suggests that Marlene is responsible for Howard’s “state of shock” and that is improper, even unnatural, for Marlene, a woman, to have won a promotion over a man. Mrs. Kidd even cautions Marlene to “be very careful how you handle him” because for Howard, working under a woman will be unbearably improper. Mrs. Kidd represents an older set of cultural values in which women were expected to remain in the domestic realm and support their husbands' career aspirations. Mrs. Kidd even says, “I put [Howard] first every inch of the way.” Her attack against Marlene – calling her a “ballbreaker” and “unnatural” – are typically conservative responses to the feminist claim that women should be on equal footing with men in the workplace. Marlene refuses to entertain Mrs. Kidd’s requests, and displays a strong resolve in asserting her right to the promotion over Howard.

At the end of Act 2, Scene 3, however, the play calls Marlene’s assertive attitude and cutthroat professionalism into question. Angie clearly displays her love and admiration for Marlene, especially after Marlene tells Mrs. Kidd to “piss off, " but Marlene cruelly dismisses Angie's dreams. Win thinks Angie is a nice kid and has encouraged Angie to start working towards a degree. Marlene, however, simply calls Angie “thick” and “funny,” and proclaims that the girl will more likely be working as a grocery packer at Tesco. Marlene has no interest in sympathizing with Angie’s situation, nor does she indicate any willingness to help her out despite the fact that Angie is her daughter, as we will eventually learn. As far as Marlene is concerned, no family matter takes precedence above her career. In Top Girls, Caryl Churchill shows that that Marlene's independence comes at a price, which is increased alienation, both social and emotional. All Marlene sees in Angie is the fact that she isn't going to “make it,” so Marlene views the girl as nothing but a liability.