To the Top Girls

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Every critic has plays they must see – Godot, The Caretaker, Macbeth – but for some reason essential 80s classic Top Girls has always eluded me. 

It seemed to have fallen out of favour until this decent revival by Out of Joint, directed by Max Stafford Clark who was at the helm for the critically acclaimed original 1982 production. 

Top Girls focuses on classic blue collar Thatcherite Marlene strutting her way to the top at the Top Girls employment agency in her Dynasty power suits, and the hidden sacrifices she has made to get there.  But, frankly, it all feels incredibly dated in a world when women are running major corporations, not just aspiring to be the MD of a small employment agency, and the next leader of the Labour Party is likely to be a woman from Yorkshire. 

Act one is wonderfully surreal bringing together Marlene and great women from times past, including a pioneering Scottish explorer, a 9th century concubine, Dull Gret, Patient Griselda and the only woman Pope. 

In a riotous hour celebrating Marlene’s elevation to MD we discover the different sacrifices each woman has had to make to break the glass ceiling, or merely survive in a man’s world, which is intended to give the token Tory food for thought.  Esther Ruth Elliott is particularly good as Pope Joan stoned to death for the effrontery of being a female priest who gives birth. 


In act two we meet the vulnerable Angie who lives with Marlene’s sister and is actually the result of our blue collar Tory’s teenage lust.  Victoria Gee does well playing a gauche and frightened teenager who eventually travels to Top Girls to meet her birth mother. 

The scenes in the Top Girls agency are like some feminist Jurassic park as things have changed so much since that time.  I suspect Caryl Churchill would argue have they really, but whilst the glass ceiling is still there it is so much higher than in Marlene’s time. 

The final act revolves round Marlene returning to her roots in Norfolk, and how she has not only abandoned her family, but her class.  Caroline Katz as Marlene finally comes to life in the charged interplay with her bitter sister, but the politics feel dated in a post Blair world. Anyone expecting a searing indictment of the appalling Cameroons will be as disappointed as I was. 

I’m glad I ticked Top Girls off the wish list with this very solid production, but it has the feel of a period piece that, for me at least, lacked the hard political punch needed in a scary time that is far more extreme that anything Thatcher ever dreamed of. 

  • Top Girls runs until March 10 and tickets can be booked  by calling West Yorkshire Playhouse Box Office on 0113 213 7700 or by visiting