Marlene’s star is rising. She’s snatched a promotion from the hands of a male colleague who was convinced the job was his. To celebrate, she throws a Saturday night dinner party for herself. In attendance are famous women from history, literature and legend including Isabella Bird, Dull Gret, Patient Griselda, Pope Joan and Lady Nijo.
Considered one of playwright Churchill’s wittiest and best-known scenes, the women share their extraordinary experiences of life, work, love and children, as heavyweight intellectual ideas are thrown around over dinner and seven bottles of Frascati.
On the following Monday morning, Marlene is back at the Top Girls employment agency where she demonstrates the ferocity that has enabled her to thrive in a cut-throat workplace. She interviews female jobseekers and decides who has what it takes to be a ‘top girl’… or not.
She is also confronted by the wife of the man at whose expense Marlene received her promotion. As the story progresses, we meet Marlene’s family: women whose lives have taken a very different trajectory to hers. We discover the sacrifices that have been made in order for Marlene to reach the top.
Whip-smart, funny, and ultimately very moving, Top Girls was written in London in 1982 – the year the phrase ‘having it all’ was coined. With the cut-throat era of Thatcherism only just beginning, the play explores the balance of career and motherhood, and asks big questions around power, ambition, family and responsibility – questions we’re still asking today.
According to Helen Thomson, who plays Marlene, the issues raised in Top Girls are as relevant now as they were in the 80’s. “What’s so interesting is the next wave of women in today’s workforce are realising the pay gap is still there and the glass ceiling still exists,” she says.
“So women are seeing that we have to work together to help each other – through movements like Lean In and #MeToo. It’s all along the same trajectory and part of the ongoing discussion of the women’s movement.”
Directed by STC Resident Director Imara Savage (The Testament of Mary, Hay Fever), Thomson will be joined by an all-female cast – Paula Arundell (The Bleeding Tree), Kate Box (Rake), Michelle Lim Davidson (Utopia), Claire Lovering (Dinner), Heather Mitchell (Cloud Nine) and Contessa Treffone (All My Sons) – to bring this high-octane production to the spectacular Sydney Opera House stage.
Caryl Churchill is one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, who, for more than thirty years, has been combining social commitment with theatrical experimentation. In addition to Top Girls, her plays include Cloud Nine, Serious Money, The Skriker, A Number, Love and Information, Ding Dong the Wicked, and Pigs And Dogs.
“Intent on breaking rules… Churchill sees the theatre as an open frontier where lives can be burst apart and explored.” – The New York Times
Director: Imara Savage Featuring: Paula Arundell, Kate Box, Michelle Lim Davidson, Claire Lovering, Heather Mitchell, Helen Thomson, Contessa Treffone Set Designer: David Fleischer Costume Designer: Renée Mulder Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper Composer & Sound Designer: Max Lyandvert
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Season: 16 February – 24 March 2018 (previews: 12 – 15 February)
For more information, visit: www.sydneytheatre.com.au for details.
Image: Paula Arundell and Helen Thomson feature in Top Girls – photo by Rene Vaile