Top 5 Women Playwrights

18th Nov 2013

Top 5 Women Playwrights
Some people seem to think that women playwrights begin and end with Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Now, there's a resurgence in innovative women writing for the stage and we're investigating a few of our favourites...

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill premièred at the Royal Court Theatre London in 1982, ten years after she started writing. Top Girls is still held as one of the innovative plays that redefined playwriting by women.

It is impossible to imagine a woman playwright who has not been influenced in some way, no matter how tenuously, by Churchill’s body of work and her reputation on the stage.

Now, with women playwrights literally bursting through the curtains, we’ve compiled a list of the top five treading the boards…

Annie Baker

Baker’s plays are concerned as much with silence as they are with dialogue. The Flick revolves around the cleaning of a movie theatre between showings of 35mm projected film, it’s a mixed media piece of theatre and film. Baker’s style has been described as New Naturalism and as akin to that of Chekov. Her plays have been produced nationally in America and from London to Sydney

Lucy Kirkwood

Kirkwood is currently writer in residence for Clean Break Theatre Company. Her second play The Umbilical Project was split into two halves – Cut and Uncut – discusses the difference between writer and production, with Kirkwood herself directing Cut and a separate production company producing Uncut – she’s borderline obsessed with interpretation and throws out big issue, dialogue driven plays.

She was part of the Improverts comedy troupe and wrote for Edinburgh University Theatre Company whilst there. Kirkwood was first discovered whilst writing for Skins and has moved over to the theatre.

That Face was the piece she work shopped on the writers programme and revolves around a fading glamorous, alcoholic mother, a father in Hong Kong and the drugging of boarding school children.Bola Agbaje

Agbaje is a Nigerian-British playwright and the winner of both the Laurence Olivier Award and the Women of Future Award. Her first play Gone Too Far! was produced at the Royal Court Theatre, she’s the first of our Royal Court Theatre alumnus who pretty much dominate this list (alongside Polly Stenham and Lucy Prebble).

Gone Too Far! has since been turned into a film, released last month. It draws heavily on her Nigerian background and is set in an ethnically diverse London council estate. It discusses the tensions and clashes of mingling ethnicities in a cosmopolitan city, micro analysed in the small council estate setting.

Polly Stenham

Stenham made waves in theatre when she wrote That Face for the Royal Court in 2007 when she was only nineteen. She is truly submerged in the art scene of London, opening her own art gallery The Cob Studio’s and Gallery, this shows through her work which is almost preoccupied with enticing new audiences to the theatre and accessing her own generation through her work.

That Face was the piece she work shopped on the writers programme and revolves around a fading glamorous, alcoholic mother, a father in Hong Kong and the drugging of boarding school children. It has since been played all over the world from Germany to America and upside down in Australia.

Lucy Prebble

Prebble is the last alumnus from the Royal Court to appear on this list. She is all about re-inhabiting space for women. Her debut play The Sugar Syndrome is set in the chat room fantasies of paedophiles.

Her other acclaimed play The Effect explored the limits of medication along with sanity, reality and neurology. She has won nearly every promising playwright award there is. She moved to T.V. to create Secret Diary of a Call Girl with Billie Piper.

What do you think? Which fantastic women playwrights are missing off our list? 

Image via Magnus Manske


  • Jess says:

    Sarah Kane, who wrote Blasted and 4.48 Psychosis. Her work is phenominal, intense and emotional both to perform and watch. Every student drama festival I’ve ever been to has included a performance of 4.48, which is also a wonderful play to read.

    • Natasha Borton says:

      Sarah Kane is a fantastic playwright. It’s great that her pieces are being performed at Student events in particular, they have the dynamic roots to draw students into theatre more.

  • FeministAllies (@feministallies) says:

    Lauren Gunderson rocks it here in the SF Bay Area: http://www.sfbg.com/specials/best-peach-playwright