Voices in Caryl Churchill’s plays swell and ripple and surge, but they are an unquiet river in whose streambed is hidden the unspeakable, the incomprehensible. Like Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter – the two playwrights with whom she is most often compared – Churchill is a doyenne of the unspoken, silences manifesting as much through their presence as their absence.
Silence, too, surrounds Churchill herself. She is among that rare strain of writers who demur at explicating or publicising their work, the substance of her writing revealed primarily through a communion of theatre-makers and audiences as they engage with the plays in performance. The few insights we have into Churchill’s craft, into any intention driving her work, are gleaned from interviews she acceded to early in her career, as well as the occasional note appended to a published play-text. Her introduction to the collection Plays: 4 (2008), for example, acknowledges her predilection for plots that act largely as McGuffins, entry points into an experiment with language and form where, often, conventions of language and form are subverted, if not dismantled entirely. The predicament for anyone engaging with Churchill’s work is to discern what remains at the end of these experiments, whether there is some tell-tale alchemy that emerges, or whether just watching the fizz and bang of the experiment itself is sufficient.