If you like plays, you need to see this play. If you don’t like plays, you need to see this play even more.
Cloud 9 by Good Company is fresh and meaty. It will shock you and make you laugh, it will make you think, it will make you want to read the play so you can suck the juicy thought marrows from it after your meaty play feast.
Cloud 9 is a play written by Caryl Churchill in the Brechtian tradition, which means it’s political and demonstrative. Characters introduce themselves, there is cross dressing and actors swap parts part way though. This is all to break down the fourth wall. They are not recreating reality, they are sending a message. And what a message. Themes of gender, sexuality, colonialism and the power dynamics implicit in all of those are very prominent. Brechtian theatre can be heavy and a bit dull but can also be contemporised really well and this is a great example of that.
The first half of the play is set in colonial Africa. Men are brave, women are pretty, the son is told off for playing with dolls by his father. There’s adultery, (much repressed) homosexuality, and the hypocrisy that inevitably arises. The play was written in the late 1970s and after the first act, members of our group wondered if maybe the themes were a bit outdated. Not that they aren’t still relevant, but that it was laid on so thick that one got the impression that when written, this was a new and controversial and maybe it was all a bit obvious now.
However, the second half turned that on it’s head. The characters are 25 years older but it’s set 100 odd years in the future. As it was originally written in the late 70s, it’s been brought forward an extra 3 decades. I actually wish I’d seen it in the context of the late 70s because I think it would have blown many minds with its transgressive powers. There is divorce, one night stands, and even an incestuous polyamorous triad. The contrast shows us how far we’ve come but by no means encourages us to rest on our laurels. There is a sweet justice seeing the uptight patriarchal father from the first act play a young girl in the second. But more importantly, the second act serves to add depth and complexity to that themes and ideas introduced in the first.
Cloud 9 is long. 3 hours long. But I was engrossed the whole way, trying to capture moments in my mind. This was also certainly helped by the acting which was great. A particular mention must go to Steven Anthony-Maxwell who played and exceptionally delicate and beautiful Betty in the first act and had us all wondering whether he was on wheels because he moved so smoothly.
There is live music composed specially by Alex Taylor who is there with others performing it live. The set is simple and elegant and whoever thought to put down fresh lawn… a beautiful touch. I wanted to lie on it.
All said, this was an epic (literally) undertaking and I take my hat off to director Sam Shore and his team for pulling of such an impressive feat.