Celebrating Caryl Churchill

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As a new Caryl Churchill play is unveiled for the Royal Court‘s fiftieth celebrations, three other Court playwrights tell Time Out what her work means to them

  • Celebrating Caryl Churchill

    Admired by fellow playwrights: Caryl Churchill

  • Caryl Churchill’s new play ‘Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?’ is one of the most anticipated events of the Royal Court’s fiftieth anniversary, a theatre Churchill has been associated with since ‘Owners’ was staged there in 1972. ‘Catch’, an experiment in collaborative writing by April de Angelis, Stella Feehily, Tanika Gupta, Chloe Moss and Laura Wade, will play in the Theatre Upstairs concurrently. Three of these playwrights explain why Churchill’s work means so much to them.

    April de Angelis

    The first of her plays I saw was ‘Top Girls’ at the Royal Court. There’s something eternal about its situation. You’ve got the top girls and then the other women who look after the children. So there are similarities that run through women’s experiences and there are chasms as well. That’s not changed. That always seems resonant. I think her plays about the past must have influenced me. I wrote a play called ‘Iron Mistress’, which was really ‘Top Girls’ in another guise. I was so young, I didn’t realise that Caryl Churchill had already done it amazingly in ‘Top Girls’! I saw ‘Cloud 9’ when it was produced at the Old Vic. The first half of that play is my favourite piece of theatre. You could only produce that subversive role-play in the theatre. ‘Blue Kettle’ has really haunted me. She wrote about loss and alienation in a brilliantly theatrical way. I can still remember a literary manager saying that women can’t write plays like men, that they don’t have the kind of brain to structure a play. You can’t say that now because Caryl Churchill is living proof that we can. She’s a great playwright because she doesn’t fit into any one era, she’s forever. Really great writers are like that. They keep producing amazing work over a long period of time.

    Stella Feehily

    I grew up in a small town in north-west Ireland and didn’t hear about Caryl Churchill until I went to drama school when I was 22. But I can remember exactly when she started to make an impact on me. It was when I delivered the first draft of my play ‘Duck’ to Max Stafford-Clark and he gave me notes and then said ‘I’m going to send you something’. A week later, I received a copy of Caryl’s ‘A Number’ with a note saying ‘look at this for the crystallisation of an idea and compression’. My play was wildly overwritten and I duly took the note. He pointed me towards her. If you want a masterclass in writing, you look at Chekhov, and you look at Caryl Churchill. I’ve read many of her plays since then and for me it’s her playfulness and inventiveness that’s important, although I admire the politics as well. I always think about the fact that when she graduated from Oxford she was publishing her thoughts on theatre in a magazine. She’s still consistently challenging us and challenging herself. I’ve met her a number of times. Integrity is a word I would use, and goodness and serenity. Also, she was born in 1938 and she’s incredibly elegant and beautiful. That inspires me almost as much as her tremendous work!

    Laura Wade

    My relationship with her work has been more through reading the plays than seeing them as I only moved to London about four years ago. I read ‘Light Shining in Buckinghamshire’ on my course at university. It seemed to be different from anything else I’d ever come across. Then I went on to read the rest of her work and discovered that it was all like nothing else you’ve ever come across. And they’re all very different from each other as well. There’s something really compelling about a body of work that is so diverse. I think ‘A Number’ is a very important play in that it deals with the very human aspect of the cloning issue, but I love the fact that we never see anyone wandering around in a white coat. It’s so concise, and so brilliantly honed and crafted – even though it’s a short play you go away thinking about it just as much as if it were longer. I also like the fact that she is accepted and admired as a playwright without being called a female playwright in a diminutive sense. She doesn’t seem to make a big issue out of being a woman. She just gets on with it quietly, which is great.‘Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?’ is playing in the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs. ‘Catch’ previews from Dec 1 in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs.

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