Since its earliest productions, Caryl Churchill's Top Girls was regarded as a unique, if difficult, play about the challenges working women face in the contemporary business world and society at large. Premiering on August 28, 1982, in the Royal Court Theatre in London before making its New York debut on December 28, 1982, in the Public Theatre, Top Girls won an Obie Award in 1983 and was the runner-up for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The play is regularly performed around the world and has quickly become part of the canon of women's theater. Top Girls helped solidify Churchill's reputation as an important playwright.
Critics praise Top Girls for a number of reasons. Churchill explores the price of success paid for by the central character, Marlene, while using unusual techniques including a nonlinear construction, an overlapping dialogue, and a mix of fantasy and reality. The last occurs at a dinner party celebrating Marlene's promotion, which is attended by five women from different times in history, literature, and art. The dinner party is the first scene of the play and, to many critics, the highlight of Top Girls. Churchill brings up many tough questions over the course of the play, including what success is and if women's progress in the workplace has been a good or bad thing. While many critics compliment the play on its handling of such big ideas in such a singular fashion, some thought Top Girls was disjointed and its message muddled. As John Russell Taylor of Plays & Players wrote, "Like most of Churchill's work, it is about nothing simple and easily capsulated."