Women Playwrights Surge in London: The Top 10 To Watch

The recent surge in the number of plays by women in London is good news for the theater.

Here’s a list of top 10 to watch, in alphabetical order:

Bola Agbaje grew up on the south London council estate where the manslaughter of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor took place in 2000.

In 2007 she vented her anxiety and anger in “Gone Too Far!” a promising work about violence within the black community.

She’s still finding her feet as a writer, and her more recent works “Off the Endz” (2010) and “Belong” (2012), the latter about Nigerian and British politics, show a developing rather than a fully-rounded talent. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens when she hits her stride. “Peckham: The Soap Opera” has just opened at the Royal Court Theatre, co-written with Lucy Kirkwood, among others.

Moira Buffini, 48, has been carving a solid career over the last decade since the success of her hit 2002 comedy “Dinner.”

A relative traditionalist with superb stagecraft and a love of tackling big themes, her next work is “Handbagged” at the Tricycle Theatre (from Sept. 26), about the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister.

Lolita Chakrabarti, 44, switched from acting to writing last year with her debut “Red Velvet” at the Tricycle Theatre.

The witty and moving play examined the racial fears prompted by African-American actor Ira Aldridge when he played Othello in London in 1833. It won her a “Most Promising Playwright” award, and a commission to adapt Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” that can be seen at the Ambassadors Theatre in a National Youth Theatre production.

Of an earlier generation of writers, Caryl Churchill, 75, continues to surprise with her caustic views on gender and politics. Her “Top Girls” (1982), which switches between a realistic family scenes and a party attended by the greatest women of history, changed the theatrical landscape with its exuberance and wit.

She can be preachy, and her “Seven Jewish Children” (2009) didn’t strive for balance in the Middle East conflict. Last year’s “Love and Information” was a rush of fragmented scenes, like a crazy trawl through the web. At her best, she leads you into strange new ways of looking at the world.

Lucy Kirkwood, born in 1984, has just seen her play “Chimerica,” about the recent history of China, transfer from the Almeida Theatre to the West End.

During the six years it took her to write it, she also premiered “Tinderbox” (2008), an absurd and macabre dystopian comedy set in a butcher’s shop, and the raucous “NSFW” (2012) about the media’s view of women. Thought-provoking political theater has never seemed less tub-thumping.

You can catch “Chimerica” at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

When Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s first play “Soho: A Tale of Table Dancers” (2000) appeared at the Arcola Theatre, it was clear a writer had arrived with a great ear for quirky, truthful dialogue. (She’d been a table dancer herself for a few months.)

Lenkiewicz, 45, continued to explore the role of women at the edge of society “Her Naked Skin” (2008), about class divisions among suffragettes. It was the first work by a living female playwright to be produced on the National Theatre’s large Olivier stage. Her next work to appear will be “Ida,” a film about nuns in 1960s Poland, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.

Abi Morgan, 45, has been writing successfully for stage and screen (“The Iron Lady”) for just over a decade. She often writes about the elderly in her work: her recent piece “27” was about a nun dealing with a degenerative disease, and “Lovesong” dealt with an old couple and their bittersweet memories.

“The Mistress Contract” is coming to the Royal Court next year. It’s based on the true story of a 93-year-old man and an 88-year-old woman who have adhered to an extraordinary sex/relationship contract they signed 30 years previously.

Lucy Prebble, 32, wraps up big questions in entertaining packages. Her name was on everyone’s lips when her comedy “Enron,” a razzle-dazzle look at the biggest bankruptcy in history, stormed into the West End after a Chichester Festival and Royal Court co-production in 2009.

Last year’s “The Effect” at the National Theatre was an equally impressive work about drugs trials and the blurred borders between chemically-altered perceptions. Her next work is due to appear at the Royal Court Theatre, the venue which has the most opportunities to young female playwrights.

Polly Stenham was just 20 when her 2007 play “That Face,” about a dysfunctional mother-son relationship, transferred from the Royal Court into the West End.

“Tusk, Tusk” was a lively look at a family of floundering adolescents home alone, and this year’s “No Quarter” was about a damaged and reclusive musician trying to care for his mother while their family fights over the inheritance. She handles stage metaphors with a sure light touch, and nothing is ever signposted.

Although Timberlake Wertenbaker’s more recent work hasn’t had quite the impact of “Our Country’s Good,” her 1985 play about Australian convicts staging a classic 18th-century comedy, that work alone would ensure her inclusion on this list.

The uplifting and troubling piece about the transformative power of theater has seen frequent revivals since its first performance at the Royal Court.

Wertenbaker, 67, likes to take classic tales, familiar texts and myths and pull them apart -- sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. Coming at the Southwark Playhouse in November is “Our Ajax,” a drama inspired by Sophocles.

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Elin McCoy on wine, Warwick Thompson on U.K. theater and Greg Evans on U.S. television.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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