Cloud Nine

Caryl Churchill

Thu 2nd April to Sat 4th April 2009


Brian Neill

Churchill Theatre(map)


“Playwrights don’t give answers, they ask questions.  We need to find new questions, which help us to answer the old ones or make them unimportant, and this means new subjects and forms.” – Caryl Churchill, 1960.


The Joint Stock Company (1974-1989) founded by David Hare, Max Stafford-Clark and David Aukin was at the forefront of the theatre collective movement in England.  Their pre-script workshop process of improvisation between writer, director and actors allowed for extensive exploration of central themes with an emphasis on the sharing of personal experience and methodologies.  In the autumn of 1978, Caryl Churchill suggested engaging in this creative collaboration to explore the rapidly changing field of sexual politics in a feminist world.   Churchill’s Cloud Nine was the resultant pinnacle of this collaborative process.   


The play’s enduring significance is driven not through its developmental method but through its inventive form and content: gender and racial inequality underscored through counter gender and racial casting; malleability of time moving characters 100 years in to the future between acts but only aging them 25 years as characters; and the impact and position of sexuality, gender and societal expectations of masculinity and femininity through out societal development.


Employing a contrapuntal style, juxtaposing the patriarchal repression of Victorian colonialism in Act 1 with the series of contemporary (at the time of first production) personal portraits of individuals learning to live to their sexual personae in Act 2, Churchill created a gender-political analysis that extends far beyond basic feminism.  Far from preaching the panacea of sexual liberation, Cloud Nine illustrated that the reality of throwing off the bonds of sexual convention often falls far short of an unalloyed and universal bliss.  Those most disadvantaged by a given economy of power have the greatest motive for identifying and articulating alternatives.  But to what end?  Edward and Betty’s journeys from Act 1 through Act 2 embody a recognition that a voyage into sexual self-discovery means the abandonment of certainty, and a corresponding commitment to the unknown.  The discovery entailed in this process may ultimately prove to have been worth making, but there is no guarantee of this.  Cloud Nine may be viewed as providing an endorsement not of a process leading to a particular outcome, but of the process in and of itself.


The reception of Cloud Nine’s sexual politics in the years since its initial production has drifted towards the “so what?” Yet the play remains an extraordinary testament to the possibility of personal and cultural transformation in the fields of gender and sexuality through an abidingly original and impactful work of art.