Play Reading in English – Top Girls by Caryl Churchill
HK English Speaking Union
- Mon 17-08-2015 7:15 PM - 2 h
Top Girls is a 1982 play by British socialist-feminist playwright, Caryl Churchill. Its protagonist is Marlene who runs a successful employment agency for women called Top Girls. Marlene is portrayed as a career-driven woman only interested in success. In the famous opening scene, she hosts a dinner party for a group of famous women from history. As the play unfolds we find Marlene has left behind her 'poor' earlier life, and illegitimate child, Angie, with her sister Joyce, in order to climb the professional ladder without any encumbrances. The play is contemporary and examines the role of women in society and what being a successful woman means. In this, one of her most famous and critically acclaimed plays, Churchill raises critical questions of universal cultural, social and political relevance. As well as presenting gender and feminist issues that were pertinent in the midst of the Thatcherite economic revolution in this work she continues to explore other significant themes - the commodification of manpower under the capitalist economy, the exploitation of women and ethical issues involved in rapid technological advancement.
Churchill doesn’t impose her answer or conclusion on her audiences but rather in a Brechtian epic theatre style, she invites us to critique Marlene’s actions through the prism of the historical experiences of women in society and the sacrifices that her independent women ‘heroines’ who attend her surreal party in Act One, have had to make for their independence and ‘success’. Marlene, the tough career woman, is portrayed as soulless, exploiting other women and suppressing her own caring side in the cause of material success.
The play argues against the trend of feminism that simply turns women into alternative patriarchs, arguing instead for the kind of feminism where women's instinct to care for the weak and downtrodden is more important. In sharp contrast to Marlene’s fantasies about herself as a successful woman, Churchill’s play doesn’t offer any ‘surreal fantasy’ as an easy solution to the characters’ everyday life problems. Rather, she poses a vital social and political conundrum for audiences to reflect on, one that she hopes will activate their critical conscience.
This is a play that has as many resonances for today’s Hong Kong as for the Thatcher era in the UK.
Facilitators: Naomi Lawrence and Mike Ingham