Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Churchill, Top Girls

This 1982 play has its roots in experimental feminist theater of the 1960s, where barriers between audience and performance may have been broken down, or where ensemble performances meant the same actor would have several roles. Feminist theater sought to be consciousness-raising, sometimes didactic. Plays were often communally written, and satirized sex stereotyping and/or depicted heroic neglected women of the past and/or reversed sex roles to expose subtleties in the workings of patriarchy.


At first the scene seems to present a gathering of various women from history and art in a celebration of their lives and accomplishments. But where do we end up really? These women narrate their lives with seemingly no perspective; they describe but do not evaluate. They interrupt each other, compromising the ideal of "community." They are characters locked into separate discourses, creating a cacophony of retold experiences with no conclusions on their parts.

"What I was intending to do was make it first look as though it was celebrating the achievements of women and then -- by showing the main character, Marlene, being successful in a very competitive, destructive, capitalist way -- ask, what kind of achievement is that? The idea was that it would start out looking like a feminist play and turn into a socialist one, as well" (Churchill, qtd. in Betsko and Koenig 82).

* * *

Excellent, yes, table for six. One of them's going to be late but we won't wait." (55)

"Do you have a sister?"
"Yes in fact." (55-56)

"Oh Joan, thank God, we can order. Do you know everyone? We were just talking about learning Latin and being clever girls." (58)

"Make that two steaks and a lot of potatoes. Rare. But I don't do good works either." (59)

"Well it's not Pope but it is managing director." (67)

"We've all come a long way. To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements." (67)

"Women, children and lunatics can't be Pope." (69)

"No really, I'm not hungry." (73)

"I can't stand this. I'm going for a pee." (77)

"It was always easy because I always knew I would do what he said." (77)

"Listen, she's been to hell." (82)

"There's a big devil sat on a roof with a big hole in his arse and he's scooping stuff out of it with a big ladle and it's falling down on us, and it's money, so a lot of the women stop and get some. But most of us is fighting the devils." (82)

What is a "top girl" and what is Churchill's perspective or comment on this?

"Top Girls" is just a name for the employment agency, but it also refers to women who succeed in patriarchal capitalist structures. Note that they're still "girls." Marlene, we know from Act I, will be promoted to "managing director" -- snazzy job title! What does a "managing director" do?

The "successful" women just seem to be passing along the traditional heartless rules. Some women are "getting ahead" in some weird way, but they're not infusing any human kindness into the system. So Churchill is critiquing one branch of the women's movement's standards for success, which are the old male success standards and a perpetuation of the competitive, destructive, capitalist system. There's no regard for "sisters"; success comes at the "expense" of other women; and blindness is rampant even concerning the continuation of oppressions within the family structures.

* * *

""I've a fairly small concern here, father and two sons, you'd have more say potentially, secretarial and reception duties, only a hundred but the job's going to grow with the concern and then you'll be in at the top with new girls coming in underneath you." (86)

"When there's a war, where's the safest place?"
"Nowhere." (92)

"She's not going to get a job when jobs are hard to get. I'd be sorry for anyone in charge of her." (97)

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Kit?"
"Nuclear physicist."
"Whatever for?"
"I could, I'm clever." (97)

"Derek asked me to marry him again."
"He doesn't know when he's beaten." (102)

"I'm doing some of Pam's ladies. They've been piling up while she's away." (103)

"How did you get past the receptionist? The girl on the desk, didn't she try to stop you?" (107)

"She's not going to make it." (120)

"Bottom women" are still left behind. The lower class remains. Marlene has colonized her sister as a surplus labor force for raising her daughter.

* * *

"We are sisters after all. It's a pity to let that go." (125)

"I know a managing director who's got two children, she breast feeds in the board room, she pays a hundred pounds a week on domestic help alone and she can afford that because she's an extremely high-powered lady earning a great deal of money." (134)

"I've always said I don't want your money." (136)

"I think the eighties are going to be stupendous." (137)

"What good's first woman if it's her? I suppose you'd have liked Hitler if he was a woman. Ms. Hitler. Got a lot done, Hitlerina. Great adventures." (138)

"I spit when I see a Rolls Royce, scratch it with my ring...." (139)

"I don't mean anything personal. I don't believe in class." (140)

"Frightening." (141)

Honors Literature Students' Web Site

The Breughel Painting

Works Consulted

Churchill, Caryl. Top Girls. In Plays: Two. London: Methuen, 1990. 51-141.

20th-Century Index