The question of how body-language and space are used in Caryl Churchill's `Top Girls' is interesting. A traditional view exists that a play is dictated by the text to the extent that the actors ought not to deviate from a pure reading. This theory emphasises authorial control and allows performers little opportunity to interpret the text for the audience. A competing view is that a play is a complete entity only when performed, aiming for a collaboration between playwright, director, performers, and audience. Churchill is often thought to take this collaborative approach to her plays, leaving a great deal of space for actors to interpret her text for their audience.
This represents a partial abdication of authorial control. It is a democratisation of theatre: a property found in feminist theories of performance whilst total authorial control over a `pure' text is considered to represent a patriarchal approach. Often thought of as the only major modern British female playwright, Churchill is inevitably linked with feminist issues. Her subject matter supports this. `Top Girls' deals with issue of feminism and its role in the workplace and in the family. It questions the value of feminism where feminism is not informed by a socialist ideal. However it is not only in subject matter that Churchill is considered to be a feminist playwright. She abandons the traditional Aristotelean structure of plays with a beginning, middle and end. The three acts in `Top Girls' do not follow chronological sequence. The third act occurs before the second. The first act demands a great effort of suspended disbelief. Marlene dines with great women of the past in a modern restaurant. Thus Churchill alters the patriarchal convention, subverting Aristotelean rules of plot. Perhaps the most obvious way in which Churchill is considered a feminist playwright is the opportunity she creates for female performers.
The scarcity of substantial roles for actresses has long been a problem in theatre. Churchill radically alters the balance in `Top Girls' by having only women on the stage. Churchill also uses the method of doubling. This is where the same actress plays several parts. This allows for thematic links to be made between roles and asks the audience to consider the implications of role-playing in society as well as on the stage. It also allows the actresses to play radically different characters in the same play, demonstrating their range as performers. In writing substantial roles for actresses, Churchill is inviting them to make these parts memorable for the audience. The agenda of socialist feminism transforms these roles into a showcase for female performance. Thus performance in this play may be considered as important as the text.
This represents a collaborative approach. The audience interpret meaning as much from the performance as from the language written by the playwright. The performance can be examined by breaking it down into the non-verbal...