Caryl Churchill is one of the best living English-language playwrights, and Cloud Nine may be accounted one of her finest plays. Like Fanshen, the script was developed from improvisations with the Joint Stock Theatre Company, here on the theme of sexual politics (‘cloud nine’ being one woman's description of orgasm). The actors soon established a ‘parallel between colonial and sexual oppression’, showing how the British occupation of Africa in the 19th century and its post-colonial presence in Northern Ireland relate to the patriarchal values of society. To reinforce this, characters from Act 1 reappear only slightly aged in Act 2; furthermore, some characters are played by members of the opposite sex: in Act 1 Betty is played by a man in order to show how femininity is an artificial and imposed construct which can become the determining feature of behaviour. Act 1 is fun but fairly predictable in its condemnation of colonialism. Act 2, in which Betty is now played by a woman, initially seems to depict greater sexual freedom, but soon reveals new and subtler forms of oppression: as the Sunday Times drama critic John Peter wrote, being on Cloud Nine may feel good, but it is easy to get vertigo. Churchill here successfully unites the personal with the political, bringing together ‘two preoccupations of mine – people's internal states of being and the external political structures which affect them, which make them insane’.
Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).
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Caryl Churchill (b. 1938) English dramatist