Time for a bit of drama as part of this week’s International Women’s Day theme, with a 1982 play that sounds like it’s named after a strip club.
Top Girls tackles women’s totally unreasonable request to combine a fulfilling career with a family life. Although it was written over 30 years ago, the main themes of the play – the sacrifices women have to make in order to be successful, the risk that women impersonate men in order to achieve success in a male-dominated society, and a debate around what ‘success’ actually means for a woman in this context – still resonate today.
Much as I like a good barney about ‘having it all’ (my general response being – well fellas (almost) do, maybe fellas would appreciate a bit more of the family malarkey, and cutting off the female talent pool’s ascent in its 30s is a huge economic waste for the whole of society), it is the opening scene which I love this play for. In a surreal but brilliant episode, the main character Marlene hosts a dinner party with five famous women from history to celebrate her Recruitment Agency promotion. These women include Pope Joan (a woman who allegedly reigned as Pope in the Middle Ages, disguised as a man, until she popped a baby out at a procession and blew her cover), Dull Gret (a Flemish folklore figure depicted by Bruegel in a 1562 painting leading an army of women to pillage hell, similar to my cousins and I raising hell on a night out) and 19th century explorer Isabella Bird. They debate their lives and experiences in the male-dominated worlds they lived in and it’s a great read, even as a stand alone piece without the rest of the play.
Top Girls is full of great lines but Dull Gret delivers my favourite:
I’d had enough, I was mad, I hate the b*stards. I come out my front door that morning and shout til my neighbours come out and I said ‘Come on, we’re going where the evil comes from and pay the b*stards out.’ And they all came out just as they was, from baking or washing in their aprons and we push down the street….You just keep running on and fighting, you don’t stop for nothing.
What a fantastic call to arms, this image of the women dropping everything and grouping up to sort things out! And we still need to. What resonates most for me about Top Girls is the fact that at around the same time as the play is set, my mum was also managing a Recruitment Agency, until I came along with my big bald head (see ‘About’ picture), screamed ‘don’t go to work muuuum’, and threw a spanner in the works career-wise. Three decades on, that bald-headed baby is now facing the same dilemma as Marlene and my mum did. Not on, is it, Top Girls?