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Saluting Caryl Churchill at 80 - one of our greatest playwrights

By: stagedoorscribbler - September 10, 2018

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

There was a terrifying statistic published in The Stage recently. It stated that in 1982 - not so long ago at all - a survey showed that in the previous year only 26 of the plays produced by the nation’s repertory companies were written by women.

The real shocker though was that 24 of those were penned by Agatha Christie.

Something needed to change. Male domination of theatre was so deeply entrenched that brilliant works by female playwrights were often routinely ignored or sidelined.

Thankfully that situation no longer exists. Things have mnoved on. Indeed The Stage piece was a tribute to one of the most remarkable, talented and influential writers in theatre, Caryl Churchill, who has just celebrated her 80th birthday.Ironically 1982 was the year of what is regarded by many as her mainstream breakthrough - Top Girls. But at that point Thatcher's Britain was still widely resistant to acknowledging the breadth and quality of work by female writers.

As attitudes gradually changed it was the power, courage and sheer innovations of work by women like Churchill that helped drive the theatricakl arts into a more enlightened age. She is  now of course acknowledged as one of the finest playwrights of her generation and rightly so. 

The Stage tribute contained praise not just for her astonishing writing  but her influence on the generations of writers who have followed.Among those celebrating her talent were the artistic director at the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone, National Theatre director Rufus Norris, playwright and director Nina Raine, playwrights Alistair McDowell and Nick Payne and actors Maxine Peake and Roger Allam.

Good to see but there is still no room for complacency. The Arts may have moved forward. But there is still a long way to travel before true equality is achieved. For the sad fact is that despite their being truly great female writers, actors, directors and producers they often still have to work twice as hard to keep up to achieve the same level of recognition as their  male counterparts. Even then the rewards can be less. Hollywood actresses are paid less than Hiollywood actors, men are often paid more than women at the BBC and only this week comedian and presenter Sandy Toksvig revealed that she receives less than half the fee paid to Stephen fry for presenting the Tv show QI.