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"To Tell or To Question?" Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children: Theater as Witness to the Human Costs of Contemporary Conflict

Niamh Malone


Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children—written as Churchill’s ardent response to the refusal of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to broadcast an internationally backed appeal for aid relief for the Palestinian people––was one of the most controversial pieces of political theater to surface in Britain in 2009. The play caused widespread debate, around the politics of balance, objectivity, representation, and authorship. This paper explores the efficacy of political theater as a form of social commentary, where the “call” of Churchill’s play found an unsolicited “response” in Richard Sterling’s  Seven Other Children, a play mimicking Churchill’s style and content, but drawing on an Israeli perspective. Sterling’s stated quest to address issues of balance in political theater poses questions about the purpose of political theater, a dramatic form that, in itself, makes no claim to balance. The paper aligns this debate to Alexander’s (2011) thesis that social dramas draw on theatrical form to achieve symbolic power: real life events play out as dramas via media and other propaganda machines geared toward shaping the psyche of a people. The controversy that ensued surrounding both Churchill’s and Stirling’s plays could be said to have created its own social drama, within the theater and beyond, on the multiple platforms on which social performances are presented.


Caryl Churchill; Gaza; political theatre; social drama; Seven Jewish Children

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2013.02115