Born in London on September 3, 1938, Caryl Churchill grew up in England and Canada. In 1960, she received a BA in English from Oxford University where she wrote three plays: Downstairs, You’ve No Need to be Frightened, and Having a Wonderful Time. After graduation, she began to write radio plays for the BBC including The Ants (1962), Not, Not, Not, Not Enough Oxygen (1971), and Schreber’s Nervous Illness (1972). This genre forced Churchill to develop a certain economy of style which would serve her well in her later work for the stage, but it also freed her from the limitations of the stage, allowing, for example, the freedom to write very short scenes or make great leaps in time and space.
In 1974, Churchill began her transition to the stage, serving as resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre from 1974-75. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, she also collaborated with theatre companies such as Joint Stock and Monstrous Regiment, both of which utilized an extended workshop period in their development of new plays and both of which are generally considered to have had a deep impact on Churchill’s development as a playwright. She would later write, “This was a new way of working … I felt stimulated by the discovery of shared ideas and the enormous energy and feeling of possibilities.” While working with Joint Stock and Monstrous Regiment, Churchill wrote a number of successful plays including Light Shining on Buckinghamshire (1976), Vinegar Tom (1976), Cloud Nine (1979), and A Mouthful of Birds (1986).
Even after striking out on her own, Churchill continued to utilize an improvisational workshop setting in the development of some of her plays. Mad Forest: A Play from Romania (1990) was written after Churchill, the director and a group of student actors from London’s Central School went to Romania to work with acting students there and find out more about the events surrounding the fall of Ceausescu. What finally emerged from this process was a play that revealed the dreadful damage done to people’s lives by years of repression and the painful difficulties of lasting change.
As Churchill’s remarkable career continues to develop, her plays seem to be growing more and more sparse and less and less inhibited by realism. In The Skriker (1994), she utilizes an associative dream logic which some critics found to be nonsensicle. The play, a visionary exploration of modern urban life, follows the Skriker, a kind of northern goblin, in its search for love and revenge as it pursues two young women to London, changing its shape at every new encounter.