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Theatre / Cloud Nine

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Describe Cloud Nine here.

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Cloud Nine is a two-act play written in 1978 by British playwright Caryl Churchill. The first act is set in colonial Africa at the end of the Nineteenth century, and concerns the daily life of British administrator and plantation owner Clive, his wife Betty, their nine-year-old son Edward, infant daughter Victoria, mother-in-law Maud, his friend Harry Bagley, (relative) neighbour Mrs. Saunders, black manservant Joshua and governess Ellen.

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Rising tensions between colonists and the indigenous peoples lead to a regiment of the Queen's troops burning down a village, causing the death's of Joshua's parents and causing him to question his loyalty and servitude to Clive's family. Of course, this takes a back seat to the various affairs going on in the household. The act ends with Clive giving a toast at the wedding of Harry and Ellen while Joshua stands in the wings, pointing a gun at him.

Oh, and did we mention the fact that Betty is played by a man, Edward's a woman, Joshua is white, and Victoria is a doll?

But Wait, There's More!! In the second act, we suddenly jump ahead to London in 1979 With no explanation whatsoever. Several characters from the first act reappear, now played by actors of the character's actual gender (and in Victoria's case, an actual actress)...but they've only aged twenty-five years in the last century; in addition, new characters include Edward's boyfriend Gerry, Victoria's friend Lin and her daughter Cathy (played by Clive's actor), Victoria's husband Martin and her son Tommy. This act is far less focused than the first, focusing on Edward and Victoria's relationships with their respective partners... and each other.

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All of this seems more or less normal, until Victoria, Lin and Edward hold a seance in the park and characters from the first act (including Child!Edward) begin appearing. Some of them are acknowledged and interacted with, others are not.

Cloud Nine is a rather polarizing play, to say the least. Most audiences won't be able to look past the (never shown) sexual debauchery and see the play's deeper themes of identity and conformation to social expectations.

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Tropes Associated With This Play Include:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Played for laughs in the first act with poor Edward being slapped multiple times in quick succession by both parents and the governess.
    • In the Second Act, Cathy is slapped by her mother. Now it's played for horror and drama.
  • Anything That Moves: One of the few unambiguous aspects of this play is Gerry's sexual appetite.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Don't let the above summary fool you—Betty's the real main character.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: subverted in the first act, with both Clive and Betty freaking the hell out upon the revelation of Ellen and Harry's sexual preferences. It's one of the reasons why the two (are forced to) get married.
  • Love Dodecahedron: In the first act, Ellen loves Betty, who is infatuated with Harry, who is screwing both Joshua and Edward, and may be attracted to Clive, who is married to Betty but has been sleeping with Mrs. Saunders. In the second act, Betty has divorced Clive and shows an interest in Gerry, who is the promiscuous boyfriend of Edward, who also fancies his sister, who is totally down for a threesome foursome with Edward, Lin and Martin. And when you factor in the possible Time Travel elements of the second act, dayumn, but the possibilities are endless.

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