Caryl Churchill 1938–
English dramatist and scriptwriter.
Churchill is the most widely performed and published female dramatist in contemporary British theater. Her works challenge social and dramatic conventions and are informed by a strong commitment to socialism and feminism. Churchill is often linked with Britain's "Fringe Theater" movement, which includes such political playwrights as David Hare and Edward Bond. Stylistically complex, Churchill's plays are noted for their innovative techniques, including the manipulation of casting and chronology.
Churchill wrote plays for radio and television during the 1960s. With the rise of the Fringe Theater in the 1970s she found outlets for theatrical performance of her work. Many of her plays were produced at the Royal Court, a subsidized alternative theater, where Churchill became the first female resident playwright.
Churchill first drew significant critical attention with Objections to Sex and Violence (1975), which introduced feminist ideology into her work. A female terrorist is the central character in this exploration of the relationship between sexuality, violence, and power. Her next play, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976), explores the combination of religious and revolutionary fervor that contributed to rebellion during the Cromwellian era.
Churchill became recognized as an accomplished playwright in both Britain and the United States with Cloud Nine (1979), a critical and popular success. Critics praised her wit and inventiveness and several proclaimed her a major talent. The play, set in colonial Africa during the Victorian era and then in present-day London, is a farce in which rampant sexual activity is exposed against a background of genteel Victorian manners. Churchill uses several theatrical devices in Cloud Nine to underscore what she believes to be the artificiality of conventional sex roles. Churchill stated that her goal in Cloud Nine was to write a play about sexual politics that would not be simply feminist but would reveal how sexual repression, like colonial repression, dehumanizes everyone. She has commented, "I brought together two preoccupations of mine—people's internal states of being and the external political structures which affect them, which make them insane."
Churchill employed similar devices in Top Girls (1982), a satire of a society in which the only way for women to succeed professionally is to adopt the worst qualities of men. Her next play, Fen (1983), was jokingly referred to as "Bottom Girls" by Frank Rich because it portrays lower-class women whom the women's liberation movement has left behind. In Fen, Churchill explores both the political problem of economic exploitation of farm workers and such personal problems as one woman's dilemma of choosing between her lover and her children. Her recent play Softcops (1984), an occasionally humorous but predominantly serious work about crime, punishment, and social responsibility, relies heavily on Michel Foucault's Surveiller et punir (Discipline and Punish).
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 102 and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13.)