This extract from Max Stafford-Clark’s professional diaries is about Top Girls, the 1982 play by Caryl Churchill. It was directed by Stafford-Clark at the Royal Court Theatre, London, where he was Artistic Director from 1979 to 1993. After the play’s first preview night, Stafford-Clark records in the diary, ‘Best play I’ve ever directed’ (p. 182).
Stafford-Clark has kept these production diaries for much of his career, recording the daily experience and process of casting, rehearsal and directing. They are, therefore, very much working documents – which means that they often feature abstracted notes or Stafford-Clark’s own abbreviations.
Top Girls and Joint Stock: What was innovative about this production?
Top Girls was produced with Joint Stock Theatre, the company Stafford-Clark co-founded in 1974. Joint Stock’s primary aim was to produce new writing for the theatre through a collaborative process. Prior to Top Girls, Churchill had successfully worked with Stafford-Clark and Joint Stock on Light Shining (1976) and Cloud Nine (1979).
The clue to Joint Stock’s approach is contained within their name: the company wanted the writing and production process to be collaborative and open, involving mutual dialogue between writer, director and cast. This was achieved, for instance, through shared reading and research, and by workshopping ideas or draft scenes. For example, during rehearsals for Top Girls Stafford-Clark invited Churchill and the cast to share their personal experiences to explore and develop character performances (see pp. 130–31 in this diary, in which the playwright and cast share thoughts on aspects of the patriarchy that anger them). This method was first pioneered by influential Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski, and falls under the ‘Emotional memory’ element in Stanislavski’s system.
While not suited to all playwrights, Joint Stock’s approach and working method was embraced by Churchill. As early as 1962 Churchill argued for greater collaboration and experimentation within theatre in the essay-manifesto, ‘Not ordinary, not safe’. Furthermore, it aligned with the collective principles of her feminist politics, which have in turn underpinned her writing. Collaboration has been and continues to be a defining characteristic of Churchill’s practice.
- Full title:
- Max Stafford-Clark Papers. VOLS. I–XLIII. Production diaries, 1974–1999: Vol. xxi. 5 March– 30 Aug. 1982
- August 1982; whole diary 5 March–30 August 1982, Royal Court Theatre, London
- Manuscript / Diary / Ephemera
- Max Stafford-Clark
- Usage terms
© Max Stafford-Clark. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial No-Derivatives Licence.
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- British Library
- Add MS 79554
- Article by:
- Exploring identity, Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre
Since its premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in 1982, Max Stafford-Clark has directed numerous productions of Top Girls, Caryl Churchill’s ground-breaking feminist play. The British Library talks with Stafford-Clark about the play’s political context and why he called it the ‘Best play I’ve ever directed’.