Cloud Nine – Caryl Churchil

I would just like to begin by apologising for my recent absence and lack of posts but there is a very good reason: I MADE IT TO UNI!! That’s right, I made it to The University of Edinburgh to Study Scandinavian Studies and English Literature. I’ve just been so busy with packing, moving, seeing family, studying and (if I’m perfectly honest) drinking and, thus, I have neglected my blog. However, that is all about to change right now:

One of the texts I am going to study this year is a play by Caryl Churchill called Cloud Nine and, honestly, I am  obsessed. It is so, so clever, so vulgar, so brilliant that I am sad it wasn’t in my life before hand. If you’re a fan of  the Glorious Oscar Wilde you will certainly love a bit of Churchill. Think The Importance of Being Earnest amplified freely by the loose boundaries of the 1970’s and you have yourself one fine play.

I think one of the most interesting things about this play is the complete reversal of gender and racial roles. The first act is based in a section of Victorian ruled Africa which is where we meet one family, of high standing and wealth, going  about their normal, Empire-driven lives full of misogyny, racism and colonialisation. I think one of the most striking and refreshing things about this play is the casting. In the first scene Clive, the man of the household, introduces his family. First of all, he introduces his wife, Betty, who is played by a man (much like Lady Bracknell in some renditions of The Importance of being Earnest). He then goes on to introduce his son Edward, who is played by a girl, and his servant, Joshua, who is played by a white man, even though he is black. Don’t worry, these points are not brushed over in the play at all as these three characters really struggle with their identities. However, the struggle is not so much self-inflicted as it is enforced by Clive, who represents Society, as a labyrinth of social expectations, stereotypes and contradictions. There are many, many issues addressed about sexuality, gender, stereotypes, the Empire and acceptance. Caryl Churchill expresses in her preface that their goal was to highlight the parallels between the oppression of women with the oppression of Africans during the Victorian era and beyond.

The second act, bizarrely, is set 100 years afterwards, but only 25 years have passed for the characters. In this act the relationships amongst the family grow to become very strange. I shan’t ruin it for you but just prepare yourself for some incest. It starts with a monologue by a man named Gerry (normally played by the same man who plays Joshua in act 1) about his experiences with other men  trains and how little he wants them to talk. This character is very interesting as he speaks about being gay as a way of avoiding all the “annoyances” wives have to offer. He sees women as a border and sees men in the same way if they become to loving. It turns out that the man he is speaking about (one he talks about who doesn’t really say much) happens to be Edward. This act also introduces Victoria, Edwars sister and Betty’s daughter, who was played by a doll in the first act. In the second act she is shown to be very well-read, very intelligent and rather bad at marriage in a modern world. Her husband, whom she is divorcing, is far too understanding of her wanting a new life with a job in Manchester and seizes it as an opportunity to talk and talk and talk about all the casual sex he’s been having with his lady friends. My theory about Martin (her husband) is that he is the man Gerry complains about speaking too much because, seriously, his speeches are looooong! Unfortunately, this is never confirmed but I just thought I’d throw it in there.

I would totally recomend this play to anyone who’s into Wilde or literature in general because it is spledidly dripping in things to analyse and apreciate and I cannot wait to study it properly!

Anyway, I’m definitely going to try to get back into blogging as I think I had just about got the hang of it and then BOOM life changing event occurred. So yeah, expect more from me in the coming months…if I’m not inundated with essays and more socialising than my introverted teen years prepared me for.

Happy reading,

Carenza x

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