Theatre Review: Top Girls at the Trafalgar Studios

Thatcherism and shifting female identity take centre stage in Caryl Churchill’s prescient drama.

It is nearly thirty years since Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls premiered at the Royal Court.

A funny, but brutal response to Thatcherism and an examination of shifting female identities, it is now part of the British theatrical canon.

The play is extraordinary for a number of reasons: the opening scene, where historical figures such as Pope Joan and Isabella Bird come together for a celebratory dinner; the fact that it is an all-female cast of seven (sadly, still unusual today) and the cutting insight Churchill provides into women and girls who can be both cruel and loving.

Max Stafford-Clark, who also directed the original production, keeps the 1980s aesthetic firmly in place, which risks the play being treated merely as a historical account rather than something immediately relevant.


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There are aspects which do seem, thankfully, a part of our past, such as the wife who pleads with her husband’s new female boss to step down to save him the embarrassment of working under a woman.

For the most part however, this remains a play which speaks of things which, in the nightmarish final words of teenager Angie, are still “frightening”.

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It is a joy to see a universally-strong female cast - Stella Gonet in particular makes a dramatic shift from plucky world-traveller Isabella Bird to frustrated working class Joyce.

Churchill’s take on the 1980s was incredibly prescient. Top Girls is a timely reminder of how Britain got itself into the state we find it today.

* Showing at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall, SW1, until Saturday, October 15.

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