Caryl Churchill

Definition

Theater

  • (1938 - ) British playwright, whose innovativeworks have achieved both critical and commercial success. The daughter of a political cartoonist and a model, Churchill was born in London but spent much of her youth in Canada. She wrote her first plays while studying at Oxford in the 1950s but thereafter wrote mainly for BBC radio while bringing up her three sons at home. Her firstfull-length stage play, the anti-capitalist satire Owners (1972), was producedby the Royal Court Theatre, which has premiered most of her subsequent work. During the 1970s she also worked extensively with the Joint Stock Company and the radical feminist group Monstrous Regiment, whose methods of collective creation greatly influenced her plays of this period. These include the historical plays Vinegar Tom and Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (both 1976) and Cloud Nine (1979), an uproarious comedy that uses cross-gender casting and a dislocated time scheme to make points about colonialism and sexual stereotyping. In Top Girls (1982), another formally daring work, a modern career woman discusses her lot with female characters from a range of different cultures and periods. Churchill enjoyed the greatest commercial success of her career with Serious Money (1987), an exuberant Jonsonian satire set in the City of London during the frenzied boom year that followed 'Big Bang'. Having opened at the Royal Court, the play went on to enjoy a long run in the West End, where it played to packed houses of the very City traders it satirized. It opened on Broadway just after the stock-market collapse of October 1987.

    In Churchill's subsequent plays, formal experiment has been accompanied by a pronounced move away from any kind of realism. Her plays of the 1990s include Mad Forest (1990), a work inspired by a visit to Romania in the wake of the revolution there, The Skriker (1994), a dream-like piece involving music, dance, and mime, and Blue Heart (1997), a curious double bill that divided the critics. More recently, Far Away (2000), an apocalyptic fable about a world in permanent conflict, enjoyed a sell-out success off-Broadway in the wake of September 11, while the award-winning A Number (2002) addressed the issue of human cloning. Lesswell received was Drunk Enough To Say I Love You (2006), an obliquemeditation on the 'special relationship' between Britain and America.

    In 2009 the Royal Court presented Churchill's Seven Jewish Children, a brief, highly stylized piece inspired by Israel's military action in Gaza; this has proved much the most controversial of Churchill's plays, provoking charges of antisemitism and equally fierce rebuttals.

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