Remaking the demos : Caryl Churchill's dramaturgy of disillusionment

Reid, Trish (2016) Remaking the demos : Caryl Churchill's dramaturgy of disillusionment. In: IFTR 2016 : Presenting the Theatrical Past; 13 - 17 Jun 2016, Stockholm, Sweden. (Unpublished)


Caryl Churchill is arguably Britain’s most significant living playwright. For more than forty years her work, via a host of dramaturgical innovations, has articulated a fiercely intelligent materialist feminism and her reputation for politically charged work is unsurpassed. Focusing on her recent plays, Love and Information (2012), here we go (2015) and Escaped Alone (2016) this paper considers the growing perception that Churchill has become less explicit in her political critique. It asks whether this perception is correct, and what is at stake in our mourning the loss of the explicitly political playwriting – the kind fuelling the identity politics of the 70s and 80s – that Churchill’s earlier work seemed to epitomise. Building on Elaine Aston’s observation that from the late 1990s Churchill’s work anticipates ‘the dissolve of a Brechtian-inflected dramaturgy’, my discussion will be framed in relation to recent writing on neo-liberalism, particularly the ways in which neoliberalist logic has successfully made illegible the foundations for collective action and indeed any coherent sense of the public good (Aston 2013:20). Drawing principally on arguments presented by Wendy Brown in Undoing the Demos (2015), I will suggest that Churchill’s explicitly oppositional dramaturgical politics has given way to a dramaturgy of loss, disillusionment, healing and hope, in order partly that we might reflect on our current critical absorption in affect, but also, and importantly, to create theatrical experiences that work against neoliberal tendencies to rationalize and instrumentalise subject-hood. Ever the innovator, Churchill points the way towards a renovated identity politics, lodged in the body’s affective connection with others, yet nonetheless rooted in political commitment and oppositional rage.

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