Set in 1980s England, ‘Top Girls’ centres around Marlene who’s just been promoted to Managing Director of the Top Girls Employment Agency.
The play opens in a modern restaurant where five historical women meet Marlene to celebrate her promotion. These are: Isabella Bird (1831-1904), a Scot known for her extensive travelling between the ages of 40 and 70; Lady Nijo (b.1258) a Japanese Emperor’s courtesan who later became a travelling nun; Dull Gret, who features in the Brueghel painting fighting devils; Pope Joan, who is believed have become Pope in 854 disguised as a man and Patient Griselda, the wife in Chaucer’s ‘The Clerk’s Tale’. As the women discuss their lives, the sacrifices that they have had to make to achieve their success or status emerge.
Through a series of recruitment interviews at the agency in Act 2 we are shown examples of successful modern day women alongside those who have not quite made it. The action then switches to Kit, 12, and Angie, 16, hiding from Angie’s mother, Joyce in a back garden. Angie hates Joyce and wants to go to see her Aunt in London whom she admires and thinks might be her real mother. In the next scene, Angie visits Marlene at work and we realise that this is her niece and Joyce her sister.
In a flashback to Marlene’s last visit to Joyce and Angie’s house a year ago, it emerges that Angie is in fact Marlene’s daughter and was adopted by Joyce. The women argue about their conflicting views on Margaret Thatcher and British politics and discuss Angie’s future. Marlene argues that each woman has to take responsibility for her own success and dismisses anyone who blames others for their failure. They acknowledge that Angie is not going to ‘make it’ and Joyce points out that although women such as Marlene have managed to ‘move on’ nothing has changed for most people.