Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud 9” is the strangest play. Set in Victorian England and colonized Africa in the first act and in 1979 England in Act II, the play experiments with cross-gender and cross-racial casting, black humor, time, and sexuality. Written in 1979, Churchill’s play is riddled with political critique. It comments on British history, repression of sexuality, weapon use or gun control, violence, and racial issues. Every word is loaded, and every character is controversial.
This is a difficult play to read. I had to keep reminding myself that Edward was played by a woman, then by a man; or that Cathy is played by a man, etc. The play begs to be performed, not just read. It is difficult to imagine the staging, the costumes, the speed of conversation, everything. Despite it’s specific casting recommendations, I feel like this play is open to many many interpretations that could reinforce its political agenda. Are period costumes used? Is it all sarcasm? What does the music sound like? What happened to Joshua? It seems that there are so many loose ends, and perhaps the fact that actors come back as different characters fixes this, but the story seemed unnecessarily complicated and irresolute.
On a first read, I really didn’t enjoy the play. I felt it was too acute at times in its humour, and too straightforward. I feel like the play’s strength is on the images that are created on stage – with the cross dressing, and the props – and not in its language. It feels a little ridiculous at time, and very dry. In my mind, I can hear my history professor going, “it’s british humour! The best kind of humour!” but I’m not sure. Can’t wait to read it out loud, see if I hear it differently.