Caryl Churchill (born 1938) is frequently referred to as the ‘grand dame’ of British drama. She is extraordinarily prolific and having written consistently over the past fifty years, her output is probably unrivalled amongst living playwrights. Despite having undoubtedly earned her place as a stalwart of British theatre, she still seems to belong to a young generation of British writers in contrast to other British theatre veterans such as Michael Frayn or David Hare. What distinguishes Caryl Churchill is a continuous impulse towards theatrical experimentation. Now in her seventies she still sees herself as part of the avant garde and each new play is also an attempt to push the envelope of theatrical representation.
Re-invention and experimentation have always been staples of Churchill’s career and she has often looked to Europe for inspiration. Her early plays such as Owners were heavily inspired by Brecht’s Epic theatre. In subsequent plays like Cloud Nine (1979) and Top Girls (1982) she dissected gender and sexual politics and became a leading feminist voice. From The Skriker (1994) onwards her work took a surrealist bent, inspired by the total theatre of Antonin Artaud. This includes Blue Kettle (1997) in which all words in the play are gradually substituted with ‘blue’ and ‘kettle’ and a contemporary adaptation of August Strindberg’s famous expressionist drama A Dreamplay. Another play of this period is Far Away which tells of Abu Ghraib horrors, but set in a fairy tale world and witnessed through the innocent gaze of a small child.
The naïve yet piercing simplicity of a child’s look at the world can be found in much of her subsequent work. Her most recent work consists of a series of extraordinary miniatures, which find eloquence in simplicity. Drunk Enough to Say I love You (2006) lasting only 30 minutes is a drunken conversation between two gay lovers which mirrors the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the USA. Seven Jewish Children lasts only ten minutes and is an attempt at articulating a response to the military strike on Gaza through a series of messages to an unborn child. This short play caused headlines throughout Britain and makes clear that Caryl Churchill is still at the centre of theatrical experimentation and debate.
Philip Thorne, dramaturg for OIT
Oslo Internasjonale Teater presenterte Sju Jødiske Barn av Caryl Churchill som en iscenesatt lesning i november 2009.