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Caryl Churchill: The Thatcher years

Janet Elizabeth Gardner, University of Massachusetts Amherst


During the eleven years of Margaret Thatcher's administrations in Britain, playwright Caryl Churchill had perhaps the most productive period in her career to date and achieved an unprecedented degree of success. This phenomenon is unusual since Churchill is a self-described socialist-feminist and these were times of increasing conservatism in the theatre, as in society as a whole. This dissertation seeks to explain this apparent contradiction. It begins with a survey of changes in British society during the Thatcher years, including the effects which Thatcher's policies and attitudes had on women, feminists, the left, and artists (especially theatre workers). Next, it examines Churchill's collaborative writing strategies against the context formed by an ideology of radical individualism. Three specific plays from the Thatcher Years are then considered in terms of the society's influences on them and their potential impact on contemporary culture. Top Girls (1982) is discussed as an attempt to reclaim the term "feminism" from a new breed of conservative business women and return it to the materialist-feminists who were once the core of the British women's movement. Fen (1983) is examined in terms of regional policy, class and gender issues, and the reconfiguration of "family" in Britain in the 1980s. Serious Money (1987) was Churchill's greatest commercial success, and the reasons for its popularity form the basis for the discussion of this play. In each case, considerable attention is given to issues of critical and public reception.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Theater|European history

Recommended Citation

Gardner, Janet Elizabeth, "Caryl Churchill: The Thatcher years" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9541108.