Caryl Churchill’s Later Plays: Textuality and Practice

Change log
Parvin, Matthew 

Despite the widespread fascination with the later work of Caryl Churchill, critical description of the plays is still catching up with what have appeared to be a series of innovations and new departures. This thesis builds on recent critical work on these plays, notably that by Elaine Aston, and puts forward new critical frameworks and vocabularies for reading Churchill’s work since 2000. A unique hybrid methodology combines rigorous textual analysis with detailed exploration of how the texts are used in practice, and looks at how strategies from the former overlap with strategies from the latter. A technique akin to anthropology’s ‘thick description’ captures Churchill and her collaborators’ practices, the stagings, the productions and the surrounding theatre environments in great detail. This ‘thick description’ draws on archival research and new interviews with Churchill’s collaborators. Terms like ‘dynamics’ and ‘indeterminacy’ knit together processes in the texts and processes in performances and productions. In parallel, Far Away (2000) is situated as a fulcrum for understanding Churchill’s oeuvre, and as a critical representation of many of her writing strategies and conceptual concerns. The combination of close reading of texts and ‘thick description’ of the texts in practice identifies a set of recurrent, overlapping techniques and strategies in Churchill’s texts that have not been recognised as such in existing accounts, and which, in combination, account for the unique qualities of Churchill’s later work. Identifying these techniques clarifies the place of the text in Churchill’s practice: Churchill intervenes in the working practices of companies, and engages with ideas of performance, but she does this from the position of playwright, through the playtext. Her writing always acts as a restatement of the playtext and the playwright’s centrality in the language of theatre. Exploring these new techniques and strategies does three further things. Firstly, it illuminates the workings of the plays’ ‘indeterminacy’. Secondly, it shows how Churchill folds in techniques and characteristics of other theatre movements and live arts to develop her playwriting. Thirdly, it reveals that Churchill’s later plays both recycle and refashion her earlier work. This offers an original critical perspective on a playwright who is often described as never repeating herself. Churchill is widely considered to be the most important playwright of the last twenty-five years. This thesis seeks to describe the singular achievement of her theatre up to the present moment, and to provide critical frameworks and vocabularies for work that has been influenced by her. At the same time, it offers a series of new positions from which to rethink the playwright’s earlier work, and its place in Churchill’s ongoing project.

Milne, Drew
Caryl Churchill, Theatre, Drama
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge