Caryl Churchill

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Plays by Caryl Churchill

Abortive

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Abortive is a short radio play first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 4 February 1971.

Roz and Colin are having a difficult time with sex, largely because of an invisible yet forbidding barrier between them. Roz became pregnant after being raped and had an abortion. Roz is not sure she made the right decision and Colin is not altogether convinced his wife was raped.

The BBC Radio 3 production was directed by John Tydeman, with Prunella Scales as Roz and Dinsdale Landen as Colin.

The After-Dinner Joke

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill’s The After-Dinner Joke is a satire on the charity business, written for television. It was first broadcast on BBC 1 on 14 February 1978 as part of the BBC's Play for Today series.

Told in 66 short, episodic scenes, the plot follows Selby, a young woman who quits her secretarial job in a big corporation to pursue her passion for ‘doing good’. As a charity worker, she studiously avoids becoming embroiled in political issues, only to discover during the course of the action that this is impossible.

The BBC production by directed by Colin Bucksey, with a cast including Paula Wilcox as Selby.

Blue Heart

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Blue Heart consists of two related short plays, Heart's Desire and Blue Kettle, both examining strained family – and especially filial – relationships. It was first performed at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, on 14 August 1997 in a touring co-production by Out of Joint and the Royal Court Theatre.

In Heart’s Desire, Brian and his wife Alice, together with Brian's sister Maisie, are waiting for the arrival of their daughter Susy, who is returning home after some years spent in Australia. A simple domestic scenario is replayed over and over with widely differing developments – some heartbreaking, some wildly comical or surreal.

In Blue Kettle, a middle-aged man, Derek, and his girlfriend, Enid, are involved in a con trick, making a series of elderly women believe that Derek is the son they once gave up for adoption. But as the situation develops, the play's dialogue undergoes a radical distortion with characters using the words 'blue' and 'kettle', apparently at random, and to an extent that grows increasingly disruptive.

The Out of Joint/Royal Court touring production was directed by Max Stafford-Clark and designed by Julian McGowan, with a cast including Gabrielle Blunt, Jacqueline Defferary, Karina Fernandez, Barnard Gallagher, Valerie Lilley, Mary Macleod, Eve Pearce, Jason Watkins and Anna Wing. Following the performances at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, it opened at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 19 August 1997, and at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs (at the Duke of York's) on 17 September.

Cloud Nine

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Churchill’s wickedly comic and compassionate study of sexual politics glimpses the relationships of a family and their lovers, with an interval of twenty-five years of their lives, and around a hundred years of history.

Highlighting the parallels of sexual and colonial oppression, the first act is set in a British colony in Africa in Victorian times. Clive is the traditional colonial patriarch, proud of his perfectly domesticated wife and black servant (‘played by a man’ and ‘played by a white’ respectively), and striving conscientiously to ensure his son and daughter play with gender appropriate toys. But furtive adultery and secret homosexuality threaten to subvert the moral order of the household.

The second act finds some of the same characters living in 1979, twenty-five years older and played by different actors, finding new liberations in bisexuality and polyamory, but finding new anxieties about gender and fulfilment. The intricacies of these relationships and the play’s doubling create a complex and moving account of the multiplicity of individual sexualities.

Cloud Nine was first performed in 1979 at the Dartington College of Arts, before touring and transferring to London.

Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? is a play that examines US foreign policy and international power politics since the mid-twentieth century through the lens of a gay relationship. It was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, on 10 November 2006.

Guy has left his wife and children for fifty years of love and adventure with Sam. But fifty years is a long time, and although Sam is desperate to be loved, Guy gradually becomes disillusioned.

In the play, Sam (played by a man) is closely identified with America and US foreign policy. Guy (also played by a man) is a more human figure, a man initially in thrall to Sam/America (the character was called 'Jack' in the original version performed at the Royal Court, but Churchill subsequently changed the character's name to Guy, perhaps to deflect any specific associations between the character and Britain). Their dialogue is elliptical and fragmented. In the opening exchange, Sam bullishly asks 'who doesn't want to be loved?'; by the end of the play, however, he is imploring the now-disenchanted Guy to 'love me love me, you have to love me'.

The Royal Court premiere was directed by James Macdonald and designed by Eugene Lee, with Ty Burrell as Sam and Stephen Dillane as Jack (the character later renamed Guy).

The play had its US premiere at the Public Theater, New York, in March 2008, again directed by James Macdonald, with Samuel West as Guy and Scott Cohen as Sam.

Escaped Alone

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone is a play that combines neighbourly chit-chat with visions of apocalyptic horror. It was first performed in the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, on 21 January 2016.

The play's action takes place in Sally's backyard over a series of summer afternoons. Three friends – Sally, Vi and Lena – are chatting when another woman, Mrs Jarrett, less well known to them, appears at the open door in the fence and joins them. All four women are 'at least seventy'. Their relaxed, gossipy conversations – played continuously although, according to a note in the text, they actually take place over 'a number of afternoons' – are represented in a distinctively compressed, allusive style. The play is divided into eight numbered sections; in each section the conversation is suspended while Mrs Jarrett delivers a monologue describing an evolving apocalyptic scenario in horrific and frequently surreal terms. In addition, in the second half of the play, each of the other characters delivers a short soliloquy or aside, laying bare their own particular psychological troubles: Sally's phobia of cats; Lena's crippling depression; Vi's intense dislike of kitchens, having killed her husband in her own kitchen several years before. In section 6, in a departure from the established pattern, they all sing a song (the actual song is unspecified in the script; in the premiere production it was 'Da Doo Ron Ron', a song made popular by American girl group The Crystals).

The Royal Court premiere was directed by James Macdonald and designed by Miriam Buether, with Linda Bassett as Mrs Jarrett, Deborah Findlay as Sally, Kika Markham as Lena and June Watson as Vi.

Far Away

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Far Away is a play that looks at conflict and its unsettling effect on our lives, and on our humanity. It was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London, on 24 November 2000.

The play is in three short parts. In the first, a young girl called Joan can't sleep; she tells her aunt Harper that she has seen her uncle hitting people with an iron bar. In the second part, several years later, Joan has become a hat maker; she has a developing friendship with another hat maker, Todd. Towards the end of this section there is a procession of prisoners wearing hats, on their way to their execution. In the final section, several years later again, Joan and Todd are taking refuge at Harper's house, and the whole world – including birds, animals and insects – now appears to be at war.

The Royal Court premiere was directed by Stephen Daldry and designed by Ian MacNeil, with Annabelle Seymour-Julen as Young Joan, Linda Bassett as Harper, Kevin McKidd as Todd and Katherine Tozer as Older Joan.

The production transferred to the Albery Theatre in the West End, with performances from 18 January 2001.

The play received its American premiere at New York Theatre Workshop in November 2002 in a production directed by Stephen Daldry, performed by Alexa Eisenstein, Marin Ireland, Frances McDormand, Chris Messina and Gina Rose.

Fen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Against the flat, bleak landscape of the Fenlands, men and women are cramped into bitterness by grinding labour and economic oppression.

Fen is composed of brief, fiercely resonant scenes, carving with powerful humanity the desolate lives of the village’s men and women. Three girls sing of being hairdressers or housewives when they grow up. Angela makes her stepdaughter drink water from the kettle. The representative of a City corporation purrs and placates her way to buying a farm that has been in the same family for generations. Ninety-year-old Ivy dreams aloud of union struggles. But the hard spine of the play is Val, a thirty-year-old who finds herself caught between her children and her lover – happy in brief moments, yet tormented past hope.

First performed in 1983 at the University of Essex Theatre, Fen is a flinty, eerie play, haunted by the ghosts of starving field workers and claustrophobic in its condemnation of agrarian and social exploitation.

Here We Go

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Here We Go is a short play about death, first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 27 November 2015 (previews from 25 November).

The play is in three parts. The first part, 'Here We Go', takes place at a party after a funeral. An unspecified number of characters (the lines are not attributed to specific characters) reminisce about the dead man in abbreviated, compressed lines of dialogue. The author provides ten speeches, printed together at the end of the scene, that are intended to be inserted 'at random' into the dialogue, as many as are required for each character to have one. The speeches are spoken directly to the audience, and each contains a brief account of the circumstances and timing of the speaker's death. The second part, 'After', is a monologue in which a recently deceased man gives an account of his transition into the afterlife, and expresses his yearning to return to the world of the living to re-experience life. In the third and final part, 'Getting There', a 'very old or ill person' is helped by a carer to get dressed and undressed, repeatedly and without dialogue, 'for as long as the scene lasts'.

An author's note in the published script states that 'The number of actors can vary in different productions. Not fewer than three in the first scene and not more than eight – five or six is probably good. Age and gender can also be decided'.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Dominic Cooke and designed by Vicki Mortimer. The cast was Madeline Appiah, Susan Engel, Patrick Godfrey, Hazel Holder, Joshua James, Amanda Lawrence, Stuart McQuarrie, Eleanor Matsuura and Alan Williams.

The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's short play The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution is based on Frantz Fanon's classic analysis of colonialism and decolonization, The Wretched of the Earth (Les Damnés de la terre). It was written as a radio play in the early 1970s, but not performed until March 2013, when it received its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre, London.

The play is set in the hospital at Blida-Joinville, Algeria, in about 1956, during the country's struggle for independence from French colonial rule. Frantz Fanon is head of the psychiatric department at the hospital, treating both oppressed and oppressor. A civil servant presents his psychologically disturbed daughter to the hospital for assessment and insists on her admittance. An inspector demands treatment for his helpless violence against his own family. And three in-patient revolutionaries are delusional and paranoid.

According to an author's note in the published text, Caryl Churchill: Shorts (Nick Hern Books, 1990), the play is based on Chapter 5 of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, and also 'owes a lot to the writings of R.D. Laing'.

The Finborough Theatre premiere was directed by James Russell and designed by Rachel Stone. The cast was Giovanni Bienne, Bejamin Cawley, Ruth Lass, Miles Mitchell, Ruth Pickett, Kenneth Price, Tim Pritchett, Will Rastall and Simon Yadoo.

Picture of Caryl Churchill

© Stephen Cummiskey

Caryl Churchill has written for the stage, television and radio.

Her stage plays include Owners (Royal Court Theatre, 1972); Objections to Sex and Violence (Royal Court, 1975); Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (Joint Stock on tour, 1976, revived at the National Theatre, 1996, and again in 2015); Vinegar Tom (Monstrous Regiment on tour, 1976); Traps (Royal Court, 1977); Cloud Nine (Joint Stock on tour, 1979 then Theatre de Lys, New York, 1981); Three More Sleepless Nights (Soho Poly and Royal Court, 1980); Top Girls (Royal Court then Public Theater, New York, 1982); Fen (Joint Stock on tour then Public Theater, New York, 1983); Softcops (RSC, 1984); A Mouthful of Birds with David Lan (Joint Stock on tour, 1986); Serious Money (Royal Court and Wyndham’s Theatre then Public Theater, New York, 1987); Icecream (Royal Court, 1989); Mad Forest (Central School of Speech and Drama then Royal Court, 1990); Lives of the Great Poisoners with Orlando Gough and Ian Spink (Second Stride on tour, 1991); The Skriker (National Theatre, 1994); Thyestes translated from Seneca (Royal Court, 1994); Hotel with Orlando Gough and Ian Spink (Second Stride on tour, 1997); This is a Chair (London International Festival of Theatre at the Royal Court, 1997); Blue Heart (Joint Stock on tour, 1997); Far Away (Royal Court, 2000 and Albery Theatre, 2001 then New York Theatre Workshop, 2002); A Number (Royal Court, 2002, New York Theatre Workshop, 2004, Young Vic, 2015); A Dream Play after Strindberg (National Theatre, 2005); Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? (Royal Court, 2006 then Public Theater, New York, 2008); Bliss, translated from Olivier Choinière (Royal Court, 2008); Seven Jewish Children – a play for Gaza (Royal Court, 2009); Love and Information (Royal Court, 2012 then New York Theatre Workshop, 2014) and Ding Dong the Wicked (Royal Court, 2012); Here We Go (National Theatre, 2015) and Escaped Alone (Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, 2016).