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I had to study this play as part of an Open University course I did a while back now, but decided to review it because I realised that (as it’s much more pleasant!) I’ve been tending to only review books that I have loved, or have moved me in some way. And Top Girls certainly didn’t do any of that, so I thought I’d prove that I am capable of reviewing literature that I’m not fond of!

I can see what Top Girls is driving at. It takes a succesful woman, Marlene, and shows the compromises that she has had to make to get to the top. It questions whether women really have to act like men to be successful, or whether this is only a path to unhappiness and cynicism, and explores this through the eyes of women, and particularly Marlene, in the ’80s. Churchill views the typical linear play structure, like the modern working world, as a male creation and challenges it through reworking it, with the acts in a non-linear sequence and in the dinner-table scene (where Marlene asks ‘active’ women of history to dinner to celebrate her promotion) the characters talk over each other, using each other’s narratives as a launching point. The play starts with this dinner table scene, and then later shows the price that Marlene has paid for this career.

Whilst I understand that this play was groundbreaking in its time, I’m afraid that I find it all a bit heavy-handed. The parallels with Thatcher are so obviously, and the strident ‘superwoman’ of the ’80s so overplayed, that I found it all a bit much. I am a feminist to my bones, and I do realise that many of the issues that Churchill raises are still problems, often intractable, for women today. But somehow I also feel that women have started at least to realise their own self-worth and realise that, although their style may be different from the ‘boys’ ,they still have something worthwhile to bring to the table. So I think I feel that this play has just had its day, and that it hasn’t aged well.  But I also found it profoundly depressing, even, maybe especially, in the dinner scene. And I don’t mind depressing art if it has a lesson to teach me, but I’m not sure Top Girls has any more.

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