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4th March 2010, 2:42pm
New book gives fresh insight into great British playwright's work
Caryl Churchill A University of Lincoln academic has published a fresh insight into the work of a world-leading contemporary British playwright.

In Churchill's Socialism: Political Resistance in the Plays of Caryl Churchill, Dr Siân Adiseshiah, Senior Lecturer in English, discusses the socialism which underpins much of the writing and dramaturgy of the acclaimed British playwright but which has until now been largely underestimated by scholars.

Arguing that this aspect of Churchill's work has been overlooked in favour of feminist and postmodernist interpretations, Dr Adiseshiah examines eight of her plays, presenting new analyses of what they say about the shifting political landscape of the latter half of the 20th Century.

Dr Adiseshiah said: “Even though many of Churchill’s plays are explicitly political, much of the existing literature about her work focuses on feminist and postmodernist interpretations. Very little gives a sustained exploration of the socialism in her plays. This seemed to me to be a gap in the research and is something this book aims to address.”

The book opens with an introductory chapter outlining the socialist contexts, including political movements and theoretical debates, which influenced the theatre of British Left playwrights, including Churchill, from the 1960s through to the turn of the century.

This is followed by a discussion of the interconnections between utopianism and theatre, introducing the eight Churchill plays which form the basis of the study: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire(1976), Vinegar Tom(1976), Top Girls(1982), Fen(1983), Serious Money(1987), Mad Forest(1990), The Skriker(1994), and Far Away(2000).

The following chapters discuss these eight plays in pairs, each chapter exploring what the works reveal about Churchill’s engagement with socialism in the context of the politics of the time.

In Chapter Three, Churchill’s History Plays, Dr Adiseshiah discusses two plays that were both set in the 17th Century and written in the mid-1970s, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and Vinegar Tom.

“This chapter documents in detail for the first time Light Shining’s explicit interest in post war communist historiography and the attention this historiography pays to the role that the radical sects played in the English Revolution of the 1640s. I was also interested in the fact that this historiography had been less interested in the witch hunts, a historical topic that forms the focus of Vinegar Tom, and one that Churchill reinstates with socialist-feminist vigour”

Socialist themes continue to appear in Churchill’s later plays, even though they are more difficult to identify, argues Dr Adiseshiah. Chapter Five, The Triumph of Capitalism, considers Churchill’s response to the perceived ‘crisis of the Left’ brought about by the decline of communism and the apparent success of liberal capitalism, as reflected in the plays Serious Money and Mad Forest.

“Both of these plays are partly in dialogue with the ‘end of history’ argument which emerged at this time,” said Dr Adiseshiah. “Serious Money is a brazen satire of City stock brokers, while Mad Forest is about the Romanian revolution. These plays are very different ways of talking about related events – on the one hand a perverse display of capitalist self-congratulation towards the end of the 1980s and on the other, the political ambiguities surrounding the break-up of the Soviet Union. Although it is more difficult to identify a clear socialist presence in these later plays, I argue that it is still there.”

Churchill's Socialism: Political Resistance in the Plays of Caryl Churchill is the first monograph by Dr Siân Adiseshiah, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln. It is published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

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