Critical Context

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Although Serious Money is unusual among Caryl Churchill’s plays in that it is solely about the haves rather than the have-nots, like her other stage plays it addresses contemporary issues from a socialist point of view. Concerned with the uses of power, whether by police, religious leaders, owners, bosses, or husbands, Churchill in Serious Money focuses on business and government. Like most of her plays, Serious Money draws upon a historical context. The seventeenth century opening of Serious Money recalls both Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (pr. 1976, pb. 1978) and Vinegar Tom (pr. 1976, pb. 1978), which were set in the seventeenth century, although both addressed contemporary problems, particularly the role of women.

Feminist issues are a large part of Churchill’s political concern; she dealt with these issues in the two period plays as well as others with contemporary settings: Cloud Nine (pr., pb. 1979), Top Girls (pr., pb. 1982), and Fen (pr., pb. 1983). Gradually, the feminist message has become less overt. In the feminist play Top Girls, for example, among the many historical and fictitious female characters who have made their way in the world against overwhelming odds, not one is idealized. Serious Money is not a feminist play, yet a feminist subtext exists. In a world that requires ruthlessness to get ahead, women are not left out: Scilla can make it to the top and be a “star.” The political point is made explicit: The closing song celebrates Great Britain’s star, Margaret Thatcher.

Some critics, though they were caught up in the exuberance and zestful energy of Serious Money, found that these elements weakened the seriousness of the political message. Others, familiar with Churchill’s daring leaps in dramatic techniques and boldness of theme in previous plays, saw the targets of satire in Serious Money as too safe and so found this play less satisfying than earlier ones. Nevertheless, Churchill’s ability to write a robust political satire, mostly in rhyme, while making clear such esoteric trading terms as “futures” and “management leveraged buyout”; to interweave a murder plot and a takeover plot with a national election; and to create a fast pace and energy that emulate the pace and energy of the world the play portrays, all with wicked humor, is no small achievement. Little wonder, then, that for 1987 Serious Money won not only the Evening Standard Drama Award for Best Comedy and the Olivier Award for Best Play, but also an Obie Award in 1988. Churchill’s offerings in the last decade of the twentieth century included Skriker (pr. 1993), Blue Heart (pr., pb. 1997), and This Is a Chair (pr. 1997, pb. 1999).

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