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Reviewed by:
  • The Theatre of Caryl Churchill by R. Darren Gobert
  • Benjamin Gillespie
The Theatre of Caryl Churchill. By R. Darren Gobert. Critical Companions series. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014; pp. 328.

It is no small task to condense the life’s work of one of Britain’s most celebrated and prolific living playwrights into a single volume. Caryl Churchill’s nearly six-decade-long career features some of the most formally innovative techniques in experimental drama produced since Beckett, and her explicitly feminist and socialist leanings have prompted numerous productions and much critical attention internationally. In line with the aims and scope of Bloomsbury’s Critical Companions series, R. Darren Gobert’s The Theatre of Caryl Churchill seamlessly interweaves text and performance analysis with extensive archival research, offering an exhaustive survey of Churchill’s oeuvre and refreshing critical perspectives that expand on her artistic legacy.

As Gobert himself puts it, the book represents a comprehensive study of Churchill’s career that is “distinct in its form and enlivened by its archival discoveries” (xv). Accordingly, the book’s interlocking chapters are organized thematically rather than chronologically, cleverly reflecting the playwright’s radical tendency to jettison linear narrative in her plays. And while each chapter spotlights three plays that frame a unique thesis, no period of the playwright’s voluminous career is left unconsidered. Featured plays are considered alongside earlier and later pieces that enhance the author’s historical and theoretical findings. By the end of the epilogue, Gobert has impressively referenced more than fifty plays and literally hundreds of productions, all while drawing on extensive untapped archival sources that draw unique connections across Churchill’s prodigious career.

The book is divided into six chapters: the first five by Gobert himself, while the final chapter comprises two critical essays from guest contributors Elaine Aston and Siân Adiseshiah. In “Churchill’s Landscapes” (chapter 1) Gobert focuses on Churchill’s uncanny ability to tailor form to thematic content, foregrounding the formal innovation of Top Girls, The Skriker, and Far Away. Next, “Derivatives; or Capitalism and the Theatre” explores Churchill’s critique of a market-driven economy in her plays Owners, Serious Money, and A Dream Play, simultaneously analyzing major productions and the financial transactions that facilitated their realization. Chapter 3 examines the exploration of “Identity and the Body” in Churchill’s work through extended analyses of Cloud Nine, Icecream (with or without Hot Fudge), and A Number, beautifully detailing the playwright’s longstanding preoccupation with the body and “how it reveals the cultural and [End Page 484] ideological histories written on it” (84). Chapter 4, “The Aesthetics and Politics of Collaboration,” documents rehearsal processes and production histories of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Fen, and Mad Forest and argues that Churchill suggests different models for social cooperation both onstage and off, especially in her collaborative work with Joint Stock. Gobert’s final chapter, “Performance and/as Theatre,” compellingly analyzes Traps, Blue Heart, and Love and Information to illustrate how Churchill’s work, especially her more recent plays, requires the liveness of theatrical performance to produce coherent meaning.

Despite their unique foci, these chapters consistently overlap and fold back onto one another, richly developing arguments as earlier chapters are expanded on and enlivened by later ones. Each of Gobert’s five chapters benefit from being read together with the others, while the two guest essays stand apart from the previous five chapters and offer welcome contributions for reading Churchill’s plays through a distinctly British context.

Throughout the book, Gobert offers useful, thick descriptions of the plays he discusses, in addition to maintaining an ongoing dialogue with a range of other scholars in the field. Peppered through these chapters are never-before-seen archival sources—including notes from rehearsal processes, script revisions, production histories, diary entries from frequent artistic collaborations (especially with British director Max Stafford-Clark, a frequent collaborator), as well as the divergent critical responses to these plays—all of which support Gobert’s diverse approaches to understanding the complexity of Churchill’s plays. Additionally, he includes many personal anecdotes taken from his own experience attending Churchill productions in London and New York over the years, which are enlightening and often amusing...


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pp. 484-485
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