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Caryl Churchill Theatre, politics and the voice of women Contemporary Literature in English ELTE Natália Pikli, PhD.

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Presentation on theme: "Caryl Churchill Theatre, politics and the voice of women Contemporary Literature in English ELTE Natália Pikli, PhD."— Presentation transcript:

1 Caryl Churchill Theatre, politics and the voice of women Contemporary Literature in English ELTE Natália Pikli, PhD

2 English theatre after 1968 After 1968: no censorship (abolition of the office of the Lord Chamberlain – submitting plays to him before production began) changing the theatrical landscape – small theatres and groups in late 1960s-early 1970s: ‘fringe’ theatre –different approaches to drama – questioning the establishment –political/gender issues and realism/biting satire –experimentation – new forms of collaboration: The Joint Stock Company (Max-Stafford Clark), Out of Joint –small and independent theatrical venues (1968: cca 6 → late 1970s over 100 in London) –women as playwrights ("women can't do structure" ) – women as theatre (Monstrous Regiment) – feminism: 1967: Abortion Act + partially legalising homosexuality; 1970 Equal Pay Act propsed – 1975: a reality, liberalisation of divorce Subsidizing theatre: 1970s – public funding to small/inventive theatres too ↔ 1980s: Thatcherism: cuts! (Thatcherism = musicals, Cats, Andrew- Lloyd Webber – theatre as money-maker)

3 Caryl Churchill (born 1938) ” born in London, father political cartoonist, mother actress/model -lived in Montreal -Oxford, read English -1960s: wife of a barrister, raising 3 small children AND writing radio plays for BBC ( ) -1972: first major success – The Owners, Royal Court Theatre : playwright in residence (Royal Court Theatre, first woman playwright!) -1970s: The Monstrous Regiment; Joint Stock Company -established, canonised – still active and fresh

4 The Royal Court Theatre: new playwrights, testing field The Monstrous Regiment: 1970s feminism, all- female theatre company The Joint Stock Company, Max Stafford Clark (ironical name!) – workshops → writing the play (communal/group AND individual experience/effort; actors – field work, improvisations led by the director, playwright taking part – writing the play- rehearsals start) – even Mad Forest, 1990 – with Ruminian students – Cloud 9, Serious Money, Fen

5 Major Plays for the Theatre Owners (1972)Owners Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976)Light Shining in Buckinghamshire Vinegar Tom (1976)Vinegar Tom Traps (1976)Traps Cloud Nine (1979)Cloud Nine Top Girls (1982)Top Girls Fen (1983) Softcops (1984)Softcops A Mouthful of Birds (1986)A Mouthful of Birds Serious Money (1987)Serious Money Mad Forest (1990)Mad Forest Lives of the Great Poisoners (1991)Lives of the Great Poisoners The Skriker (1994)The Skriker Blue Heart (1997)Blue Heart This is a Chair (1999)This is a Chair Far Away (2000)Far Away A Number (2002)A Number Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? (2006)Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? Seven Jewish Children — a play for Gaza (2009)Seven Jewish Children — a play for Gaza Love and Information (2012)Love and Information

6 Inventions in subject matter and form: postmodernism non-naturalistic technique women’s role, possibilities and position in society The Owners (1972) – owning things and persons (capitalism and gender problems) – exploitation of others (politics and private lives) form: ‘always expect the unexpected’ dialogues: carefully constructed (‘engineering’) – with slashes/polyphonic dialogue; pauses are more important than the words – ‘look behind’ multimedial forms

7 Cloud 9 (1979) two acts: two timelines 1880, Africa, model Victorian English family (Clive, Betty ♂, Edward ♀, Victoria /doll/+ Betty’s mother), colonialism (servant, Joshua /white/ + explorer Harry Bagley), independent widower Mrs Saunders (‘go away’) 1979 London – family members only age 25 years: Betty ♀, Victoria, Martin, Edward, Gerry, Lin, Cathy (♂ 5 year-old daughter of Lin )

8 Cloud 9 – irony and grim humour title: ‘a feeling of extreme happiness or euphoria, feeling like you're floating on air’, 12 clouds – 9th inhabited – place of heaven (Urban Dictionary) stereotypical Victorian happy family (cf. the songs at the beginning): underneath – unhappiness, frustration adultery (Clive-Mrs Saunders, Betty ♥ Harry), homosexual desire: Ellen, Nurse ♥ Betty, with pedophilia: Edward ♥ Harry, END of Act One: another forced ‘happy’ marriage: Ellen and Harry Cross-casting: –Betty: stereotypical Victorian wife, trying to live up to the expectations of (male) society, silent and obedient – played by a male actor –homosexual Edward by an actress –black servant by a white actor –young daughter by a mute doll HUMOUR AND CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING: gender and social stereotypes highlighted and problematised

9 Cloud 9 – the present day SEX – after 1960s: liberation ≠ happiness female sexuality: to be feared in 1880 (dark, mysterious force) – problematic even after emancipation Martin/Victoria: unhappy marriage, Lin: Lesbian desire for Victoria, Edward’s unfaithful and callous male partner, Gerry, Cathy – a disturbing presence for her mother, Betty leaving Clive = insecurity, strange ‘living arrangements’ (Lin, Victoria, Edward, Cathy)

10 Brechtian theatre – teach/alienation episodic rather than ‘plotwise’ no ‘psychological realism’ Brechtian songs (stereotypes, eg. Edward/Betty: ‘Boy’s best friend is her mother’) – alienation effect + irony Cross-casting – no easy sympathy with the characters on stage – the world is unsympathetic doublings – eg. Fen 22 roles by 6 players ‘scizophrenia’ – further explored in later plays (Lives of the Great Poisoners – dancers/singers/actors – split personality  The Skriker, A Number)

11 Top Girls (1982) First scene: Marlene, successful businesswoman of the age invites a quintet of famous historical-legendary women to celebrate her recent success at a restaurant: –Isabella Bird ( ) Victorian traveller between the ages of 40 and 70 –Lady Nijo (b. 1258) Japanese courtesan of the Emperor, later Buddhist nun travelling on foot through Japan –Pope Joan, disguised as a man, Pope between –Dull Gret – Brueghel’s painting, leading a grotesque attack of women against hell and devils –Patient Griselda – a legendary figure of female patience and obedience (Boccaccio, Petrarch, Chaucer) – a peasant girl, Marquis marrying her if promised full obedience, tested (children taken away, sent home, arranging for a future marriage), finally rewarded –MARLENE: ”We’ve all come a long way. To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements.”

12 P. Bruegel, the Elder: Dulle Griet (Mad Meg), c. 1652

13 Dulle Griet, Patient Griselda

14 Top Girls as their stories unfold: success came with a price: loneliness, pain, suffering, killed or kidnapped or abandoned children, losses of loved ones anachronism and humour/irony at several layers: GRISELDA: I never eat pudding. MARLENE: Griselda, I hope you’re not anorexic. We’re having pudding, I am, and getting nice and fat. GRISELDA: Oh if everyone is. I don’t mind. (self-)exploitation – Marlene: ‘the capitalist internalised’ – male aggression, ruthlessness, choosing her career over her daughter=pain sisters: Marlene (London, single, career woman) v Joyce (raising M’s daughter, country, isolation, emotional deprivation – no real alternatives

15 The Skriker (1994) a magical, nightmarish fairy tale + contemporary concerns (teenage mothers, mental institution, post-natal psychosis and killing) longing to be loved: symbol – The Skriker: ancient witch/fairy

16 The Skriker fairy tale elements: good girl (Lily)- bad girl (Josie) – after a kiss with the Skriker: gold/toads out of their mouths shape-shifting/gender-switching of the Skriker (beggar, kid, man, etc.) – attractive and repellent wishes – be careful what you wish for! (Josie trying to save Lily – going to the underworld) long monologues of the Skriker – eg. Prologue: an invented language: pile of words, nonsensical, Joycean, nursery rhymes, fragmented → obscure but palpable meaning dialogue: Josie/Lily/Skriker mute characters – dancers (multimediality) – nightmarish vision (see next slide: dinner in the dark underworld)

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18 The Skriker love ≈ Skriker: if you love/accept her – she sticks on you, unbearable, when she’s gone – you miss her granting wishes – stealing/robbing love from others Josie/Lily: rivals for the Skriker splitting of the identity (newborn-killing v careful mother) finally: Lily sacrificing herself for her baby, Josie and the Skriker – so as even she would not remain unloved – Skriker in her full glory again

19 A Number (2002) Salter: a man in his early sixties, he was married and had one son. His wife killed herself by throwing herself under a tube train. A few years later he had his son Bernard cloned. Bernard (B2): His son, thirty- five, first clone of his first son, made to replace original son. Bernard (B1): His son, forty. First son of Salter, Mother committed suicide when he was two years old. Michael Black: His son, thirty- five. Another clone of Salter’s first son. He is married with three children, and is a mathematics teacher.

20 A Number contemporary concerns/anxieties: cloning (Dolly the sheep, a kitten, a man?) + age-old philosophical/theatrical question: Who am I? father: facing past sins/facing the sons (sons never meet on stage) –an abandoned son –moral problem of cloning –cloning not only one but ‘a number’ fragmented dialogue,unfinished sentences, interruptions (no punctuation): nothing/too much to say – spectators’/readers’ task – to make sense the world as they had know it, collapsed – their speech

21 ‘summary’ feminist? or a female viewpoint on the world: women are just as silly, ruthless or frustrated as men leftist/ anti-capitalist? Or: against any economic/emotional deprivation, writing on sexual/gender politics in general the world v the individual: politics in the private sphere didactic? Never – never only one viewpoint, never sentimental, never demonizing Caryl Churchill: a playwright’s duty is ‘to ask questions’ HUNGARY: Vinegar Tom – in Átváltozások , Holdfény (Európa, antológia, The Skriker – Hamvai Kornél), Caryl Churchill: Drámák (Európa, 2007) Performances: The Skriker/Az Iglic – Vígszínház 2000, Börcsök E., Katona J. Színház-Bábszínház 2013; A Number/Sokan, Szöveg Színház, 2006, Cloud 9, 2009 K.V. Társulat; Blue Heart/Kék szív, 2008 MU Színház Films: A Number, 2008, Top Girls BBC

22 In-yer-face theatre and the latest generation of playwrights – young, violent and aggressive theatre of the 1990s-2010s – esp. Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Jezz Butterworthwww.inyerface-theatre.com Series: Methuen Drama. Contemporary Dramatists = ‘canon’ Mike Bartlett (homosexuality, middle class, everyday themes) Jezz Butterworth (Jerusalem; young, daring, black comedy) Sarah Kane ( , 24:7, Blasted; psychology, brutal, suicide) David Harrowen (Blackbird) SZKÉNÉ Martin McDonagh (1970, inspired by Tarantino and films, In Bruges/Erőszakik/, Irish but distance from Ireland – Synge-ean lge and Tarantinoesque violence; The Beauty Queen of Leenane, 1996, The Cripple of Inishmaan, 1996 – RADNÓTI SZ.; A Skull in Connemara, 1997; The Lonesome West, 1997) now: ‘Vaknyugat’ Átrium Film-Színház.


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