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Caryl Churchill (born 3 September 1938) is an Englishmarker dramatist known for her use of non-naturalistic techniques and feminist themes, the abuses of power, and sexual politics. She is acknowledged as a major playwright in the English language and a leading female writer. Her early work developed Brecht's modernist dramatic and theatrical techniques of ‘Epic theatre’ to explore issues around gender and sexuality. From A Mouthful of Birds (1986) onwards, she began to experiment with forms of dance-theatre, incorporating techniques developed from the performance tradition initiated by Artaud with his 'Theatre of Cruelty'. This move away from a clear Fabel dramaturgy towards increasingly fragmented and surrealistic narratives characterizes her work as postmodernist.


Churchill was born in Londonmarker, Englandmarker, the daughter of Jan, a fashion model, and Robert Churchill, a political cartoonist. After World War II her family emigrated to Montrealmarker, Canadamarker at ten years old, where she attended Trafalgar School for Girls. She returned to England to attend university, and graduated from Lady Margaret Hallmarker, a women’s college of the Oxford Universitymarker, in 1960 with a B.A. degree in English Literature. She also began her career there.Her four earliest plays, Downstairs (produced 1958),You've No Need to be Frightened, Having a Wonderful Time (1960), and Easy Death (produced 1962) were performed by Oxford-based theatrical ensembles-student drama groups.


In 1961 she married Oxford contemporary David Harter, a barrister, and began raising three sons, Joe, Paul and Rick, in Islington, North London, where she lives.

It was while raising a family in 1960s and ’70s that Churchill began to write short radio dramas and then television plays for BBC radio including The Ants (1962), Not, Not, Not, Not Enough Oxygen (1971), and Schreber's Nervous Illness (1972). She also wrote television plays for the BBC, including The After Dinner Joke (1978) and Crimes (1982). These, as well as some of her radio plays, have been adapted for the stage.

Themes and plays

She wrote Owners, a two-act, 14-scene play about obsession with power, her first stage play and "her first major theatrical endeavour", in 1972 which was produced in London the same year. Churchill's basic socialist views are very apparent in the play, which is a critique of the values that most capitalist take for granted: being aggressive, getting ahead, doing well. She served as resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatremarker from 1974-1975, and later began collaboration with theatre companies such as Joint Stock Theatre Company and Monstrous Regiment (a feminist theatre union) which used an extended workshop period in their development of new plays. Churchill continued to use an improvisational workshop setting in the development of some of her plays.

"During her tenure as resident dramatist at London’s Royal Court Theatre, Churchill wrote Objections to Sex and Violence (1974), which, though not well-reviewed, led to her successful association with David Hare and Max Stafford-Clark’s Joint Stock Company and with Monstrous Regiment, a feminist group."

Her first play to receive wide notice was Cloud Nine (1979), "a farce about sexual politics", set partly in a British colony in the Victorian era, which examines the relationships involved in colonisation, and utilizes cross-gender casting for comic and instructive effect. The play became successful in the United States and in Britain, and won an Obie Award in 1982 for best play of the year.

In time Churchill's writing became less and less inhibited by the conventions of realism, and the feminist themes were also developed. She won another Obie Award for best play with Top Girls (1982), "which deals with women’s losing their humanity in order to attain power in a male-dominated environment", has an all-female cast, and focuses on Marlene, who has sacrificed a home and family life to achieve success in the world of business. Half the action takes place at a celebratory dinner where Marlene mixes with historical and fictional women who achieved success in a man's world, but always at some cost; the other half in Marlene's family, where the cost is being paid.

"Softcops (produced 1984), a surreal play set in 19th-century France about government attempts to depoliticize illegal acts, was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company."

Serious Money (1987), "a comedy about excesses in the financial world", is a verse play that takes a satirical look at the stock market and received enormous acclaim, partly because it played immediately after the stock market crash of 1987.

Icecream (1989) investigates Anglo-American stereotypes.

In The Skriker (1994), Churchill utilises an associative dream logic which some critics found to be nonsensical. The play, a visionary exploration of global ecology made through gender, storytelling, distorted language and modern urban life, follows an ancient and shapeshifting death portent (The Skriker) in her search for love, revenge and human understanding.

"The prolific Churchill continued to push boundaries into the late 1990s. In 1997 she collaborated with the composer Orlando Gough to create Hotel, a choreographed opera or sung ballet set in a hotel room. Also that year her surrealistic short play This Is a Chair was produced."

Her 2002 play, A Number, addresses the subject of human cloning. Her adapted screenplay of A Number was shown on BBC TV in September 2008. Her latest play, Drunk Enough To Say I Love You (2006), takes a critical look at what she sees as the submissiveness of Britain to America in foreign policy.


She has also published a translation of Seneca's Thyestes and her version of August Strindberg's A Dream Play, premiered at the National Theatre in 2005. Her career is examined in the Reputations strand on TheatreVoice.


The Royal Court Theatre held a 70th Birthday retrospective of her work by presenting readings of many of her most famous plays directed by notable playwrights including Martin Crimp and Mark Ravenhill.
Of course it's possible to trace recurring themes in Churchill's work - alienation between parent and child, the possibility and failure of revolution.
But it is the variety of her work that is most striking.
As Von Mayenburg says: "With each play, she discovers new genres and forms.
She then discards them and moves on, opening up possibilities for other playwrights to explore.
I think many people writing today don't even realise they've been influenced by her.
She's changed the language of theatre.
And very few playwrights do that."


Churchill is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. In January 2009, Churchill wrote a ten minute history of Israel, ending with the Israeli attack on Gaza, to be performed free at the Royal Court Theatremarker, with a collection for Medical Aid for Palestinians. The play, Seven Jewish Children — a play about Gaza, was then published online, for free download and use. Churchill stated: "Anyone can perform it without acquiring the rights, as long as they do a collection for people in Gaza at the end of it". A full performance is also available online from The Guardian's website. This play has been criticised as being anti-semitic, though Churchill has denied the accusation. She has said that Seven Jewish Children, is not just a theatre event, it is a political event.

Prizes and awards

Churchill received many prizes and awards during her career.

  • 1982 Obie Award for Playwriting Top Girls

  • 1984 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Fen

  • 1987 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the Year Serious Money

  • 1987 Obie Award for Best New Play Serious Money

  • 1987 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Serious Money

  • 2001 Obie Sustained Achievement Award


See also

Further reading

  • Churchill, Caryl. 1990. Shorts. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 9781854590855.


External links

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