Thursday, March 7, 2013

Top Girls a perfect fit for International Women's Day

Tomorrow is International Women's Day. It is also opening night of the Douglas College production of Top Girls. As Caryl Churchill's play revolves around a tough career woman living in a "man's world" who is forced to acknowledge the hidden costs of success, the timing couldn't be better. In honour of International Women's Day, Claire Fogal, director, gives us insight into her production of Top Girls.

By Claire Fogal


Though many elements of Top Girls are tragic, I don’t find the play depressing, but actually wildly enlivening. I believe the characters are not just falling apart, but breaking open as they realize how they have internalized oppression, and begin to discover the roots of their own freedom and power.

Deepak Chopra says, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” With Top Girls I feel Caryl Churchill aims to give us the brutal birth pangs that could lead to a whole new level of human society. Top Girls has been hailed as “the best British play ever from a woman dramatist.” (The Guardian, 1983) The play takes place in 1982 in Maggie Thatcher’s England, but my concern was that too much focus on '80s British historical realism might actually distance us from the play’s contemporary relevance. 

Even in Canada, women still earn 83 cents to every dollar earned by men (and it took 20 years to increase eight cents), and in the U.S., “secretary” remains the number one job for women. North American women continue the battle to balance childcare and careers. My lawyer friend tells her clients that she has a “meeting” rather than reveal her need to pick up her son from preschool. 

As a culture we are still struggling to value caregivers, and still widening the gap between rich and poor, many of whom are mothers and their children. Caryl Churchill unflinchingly examines the hidden costs of capitalistic success and the dark side of sisterhood when individual power, rather than collective power, is the goal. 

Our secret agenda with this production is to envelop you in the play, and to include you in the full experience of true human collaboration that live theatre always comes from. Churchill wrote that she intended for “that which is absent in the play, to have a presence.” Cooperation, equality, compassion and patience are all qualities missing from the characters’ lives; in our staging we’ve worked to reveal the extensive collaboration of our entire production team required to share Churchill’s moving story and revolutionary message. 

We are eager to hear if our experiment succeeds in making this play personally relevant to you, and would greatly appreciate your thoughts in our comments book in the lobby after the show.

Top Girls runs March 8-16 at the Studio Theatre, Douglas College, 700 Royal Ave., New Westminster. Tickets ($8-$12) available through the Massey Theatre, 604 521 5050.