Caryl Churchill was born in London in 1938. Following World War II, her family emigrated to Canada. After returning to England in 1956, Churchill attended Oxford University. There she began her writing career, with her earliest plays performed by Oxford student groups in the 1960s. In 1961, she married David Harter. Together, they have three sons.
After writing BBC radio dramas in the 1960s, Churchill's writing interests turned to examining power structures, sexuality, economics, and non-realist dramatic techniques. Inspired by Brecht and Epic theatre, as well as Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty, Churchill's plays took on a fragmented, episodic style as a way of delving into the themes she was most interested in. In 1974-75 she was the Resident Dramatist at Royal Court, and for the next decade or more worked primarily with the groups Joint Stock and Monstrous Regiment.
While working with these theatre groups, Churchill often utilized workshop format to craft her plays, including Cloud Nine (1979) and Fen (1983). Cloud Nine was notable for its subversion of linear time, cross-gendered casting, and postcolonial arguments. Fen explores the women of a rural farming community in England, inspired by Churchill's workshops and interviews in the fens of East England.
In 1982, Churchill wrote Top Girls, a play that combines 1980s Thatcherism politics with women's history. It premiered at Royal Court (and won the Laurence Olivier/BBC Award) before going to Broadway at the Public Theatre. Churchill has also created retellings of classical myths, from the dance-drama A Mouth Full of Birds (1986) based on Euripides' The Bacchae, to Seneca's Thyestes (2001) to Strindberg's A Dream Play (2005).
Throughout her career, Churchill's plays have courted controversy through their strong social and political messages. She has regularly challenged traditional methods of dramatic storytelling and defied easy interpretations. In 2008, Churchill's 70th birthday was honored with a retrospective at the Royal Court Theatre.
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