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045 – Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill

045 – Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill

Katherine Kingsley as Marlene
National Theatre 2019
Photo: Johan Persson

 

045 – Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill

The curtain rises on a restaurant table set for six. Marlene has arrived to host a dinner party to celebrate her promotion at work – she is now the Managing Director of a recruitment agency called Top Girls. The friends who arrive to celebrate with her are not colleagues from her office or even from her personal life – they are female figures of some renown from different ages of history. So begins one of the most extraordinary and brilliant scenes of theatre ever conceived, in which six women from across history share their triumphs and challenges, loves and losses, over dinner and several bottles of Frascati.

This is the first act of Caryl Churchill’s modern classic, Top Girls, which premiered at the Royal Court in 1982 and has been revived many times since.  Although the play reflected some of the political and social concerns of Britain at the time that it was written in the early 1980s, it is revived and studied on education curricula not just for its extraordinary opening scene, but for its innovative structure and for its enduring questions about the opportunities, and opportunity costs, for women who may seek to be ‘top girls’.

My expert guest in this episode is Professor Elaine Aston, who also joined me in episode 30 to talk about Caryl Churchill’s play Escaped Alone.

The 2019 National Theatre production of Top Girls is available to watch here on NT at Home.

Elaine Aston

Elaine Aston is a Professor at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, and the author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill which she has updated in three editions published by Northcote House, as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill and the Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights from Cambridge University Press. Elaine is acclaimed for her work on theatre research and feminism, publishing several books on Feminist Theatre Practice, and currently serves as the President of the International Federation for Theatre Research.

Recommended Play

Elaine recommended Posh by Laura Wade

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.
You might also be interested in …
076 – Othello, by William Shakespeare

076 – Othello, by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.

I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.

Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson

075 – The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter

075 – The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?

I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.

Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.

074 – Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen

074 – Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.

Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.

Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Elaine Aston

Elaine Aston

Elaine Aston

Elaine Aston is a Professor at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, and the author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill which she has updated in three editions published by Northcote House, as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill and the Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights from Cambridge University Press.

Elaine is acclaimed for her work on theatre research and feminism, publishing several books on Feminist Theatre Practice, and currently serves as the President of the International Federation for Theatre Research.

Recommended Play(s)

In episode 30 Elaine recommended Hang by debbie tucker green.

In episode 45 she recommended Posh by Laura Wade.

 

 

 

030 – Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill

030 – Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, and June Watson
at the Royal Court
Photo by Johan Persson

 

 

030 – Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill

The setting seems ordinary enough. Four women of a certain age sitting in a suburban garden chatting over tea. They talk of the usual things: children and grandchildren, the local shops, the latest TV series and the jobs they used to do. But each of them harbours darker thoughts that simmer below the social surface, prompting moments of private or sometimes more public anxiety.

The peace of these scenes in the garden is even more disturbed when from time-to-time one of the women steps away from the others to tell us about shocking, even surreal, disasters that have struck the world. What world is she describing? How does she know about what she is telling us? Is it some warning about an apocalypse to come?

This is the unsettling yet unforgettable dramatic landscape of Caryl Churchill’s stunning play Escaped Alone. The play was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 2016, and was revived again in 2017 with the same cast, before transferring to New York. This is the first Caryl Churchill play that we’ve covered, and I’m delighted finally to be doing one of her titles, not least because in our play poll listeners and guests have recommended Caryl Churchill more than any other author.  Her body of work contains many of the most innovative works in the catalogue of modern drama. She is renowned for her relentless experimentation in form, as well as her political consciousness and the precise poetry of her language. Her work has an unfailing power to dramatize the anxieties that dominate our contemporary world, and in the case of Escaped Alone to present an extraordinarily prophetic vision of a world overcome by collective disaster.

I’m joined in this episode by an expert in Caryl Churchill’s work, Elaine Aston. Elaine is a Professor at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, and the author of two books on the work of Caryl Churchill.

The film production of Escaped Alone will be streamed online at 7:30 pm each evening for five nights from 2-6 September 2021. Click here to purchase tickets from the Teddington Theatre Club.

Elaine Aston

Elaine Aston is a Professor at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, and the author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill which she has updated in three editions published by Northcote House, as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill and the Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights from Cambridge University Press. Elaine is acclaimed for her work on theatre research and feminism, publishing several books on Feminist Theatre Practice, and currently serves as the President of the International Federation for Theatre Research.

Recommended Play

Elaine recommended Hang by debbie tucker green.

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on Caryl Churchill’s prophetic play Escaped Alone include further thoughts on Churchill’s uncanny prescience, as well as some background on the experience of filming the play during lockdown.

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The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.
You might also be interested in …
076 – Othello, by William Shakespeare

076 – Othello, by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.

I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.

Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson

075 – The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter

075 – The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?

I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.

Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.

074 – Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen

074 – Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.

Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.

Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.