Top Girls

February 11 – 27 1993
By Caryl Churchill
Director Linda Hardy

Director's Notes

The production you are about to see comprises the culmination of an exploration in character study for ten young women in the final year of their Acting Specialization program. It-is also the graduating project of our MFA candidate, David Lucas, who has designed both set and costumes for Top Girls. Most importantly, it is a celebration of team effort in the true spirit of ensemble work; and, I think, in the spirit in which the playwright intended the piece to be presented. For what characterizes Caryl Chuchill’s writing generally is its highly collaborative and open nature; its great respect for actors and the acting process; and its challenge to directors and designers to embrace the vitality and richness inherent in her text.

With Top Girls, Churchill set out to write a play for women at a time (the early 1980’s) when women in the theatre were begging for roles. The play was, therefore, originally intended to have a cast of sixteen. However, as is generally the case with modern commercial theatre, finances dictated that the first production at the Royal Court be done with a cast of seven – all doubling roles. Thus a theatre tradition was born; and now it is almost unthinkable to do the show without doubling. So, in this production, each performer plays two roles – and since I have ten students, two share the role of Griselda, playing her on different evenings. We have also invented a singer for Olivia Palenstein, who plays Shona, so that she has two roles, too. And, we created another waitress for Brooke Weissler to balance her character Jeanine.

Through the course of rehearsal, we’ve explored many of the important issues which Top Girls raises; issues important to everyone, not just women. Some of them are about sacrifice and compromise; selfishness and determination; victory and pain. Perhaps the strongest focus on love and compassion.

Certainly it has become clear to us as the play reaches performance, that there are no easy routes to the top. As women take on the challenges that have traditionally fallen to men, they find that they face many of the same dilemmas. The questions then facing them are: who and what gets left behind? And what is wisdom?

One more note: in Top Girls, Churchill explores a technique she calls “cross talk”. Briefly, it refers to the fact that often in real life, and especially at parties or when people are excited, they start talking before someone else has finished or, in fact, at the same time, because they are eager to get out what they want to say. The result in performance is the creation of a cacophony of conversation, exacting work for both actors and audience alike but fascinating to listen to and watch. Some audiences and theatre critics have been incensed by it; others delighted. It is an experiment. She also uses some rather unpleasant four letter words in places that she thinks appropriate. I have not cut them because I think they are part of the texture of the work. Thank you for supporting us and the work we do here.


– Linda Hardy, Director

Top Girls


David Owen Lucas

David Owen Lucas came to the University of Victoria two years ago with an Honours Degree in painting and drawing and a previous career as Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture. Phoenix patrons will have seen three productions for which David was the set designer and scenic artist – Saroyan’s The Beautiful People, Sheridan’s The School For Scandal and Richard Epp’s Japango.

 Top Girls, for which David has designed both set and costumes, is his Thesis Graduation Project leading to a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Design. This design degree is a destination for which he set out thirty years ago. At that time he thought, with dismay, “that five long years lay ahead of me before I could know design enough to graduate – it turned into twenty-five and I feel like I ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

 “Designing costumes and sets has been an exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, frustrating, exhausting and always exciting process – especially for a painter such as myself. The characters in my imagination take form and act in the space of my imagination. It becomes a sculpture or painting come to life but with the added magic of the dialogue to take it to another realm. In some delightful way it seems like a huge and pleasant hallucination.”

 David intends to continue living in Victoria and eagerly looks forward to producing a body of work in the theatre.

Cast & Creative

Creative Team:

Director Linda Hardy
Set & Costume Designer David Owen Lucas
Assistant Set & Costume Designer Laura Fam
Lighting Designer Bruce Watson
Sound Designer Terina Fletcher
Period Movement Kaz Piesowocki
Assistant to the Director/Song Choreographer Pia Wyatt



Erin Malin Isabella Bird
Joanna Hodgson Lady Nijo
Shannon Anderson Pope Joan
Nancy Ford/Rebecca Erickson Griselda
Alma Watson Dull Gret
Olivia Palenstein Singer
Brooke Weissler Waitress
Allison Yauk Waitress
Kira Bradley Marlene
Brooke Weissler Jeanine
Erin Malin Nell
Allison Yauk Win
Alma Watson Louise
Shannon Anderson Joyce
Nancy Ford Angie
Joanna Hodgson Kitt
Rebecca Erickson Mrs. Kidd
Olivia Palenstein Shona