“Cloud Nine” is a two-act play by British playwright Caryl Churchill, first performed at Dartington College of Arts in 1979. Act one of the play is set in Victorian times in a British colony in Africa. Act two is set in a London in 1979. Yet, unexplainably, only twenty-five years have passed for the characters.
Clive is the first act’s protagonist. He is, seemingly, the very model of a British aristocrat. He puts his duty to Queen and country first and assumes that those that rely on him will obey him. Clive accepts as true that gender-roles are well defined and expects his son, Edward, to be a man’s man, like him. Clive is an overt racist who believes the Africans are “savages” who can only be civilized by British discipline. Ironically, Clive has an affair with Mrs. Saunders, ignoring the infidelity that he imposes on his wife, Betty.
Betty is Clive’s wife and in the first act is played by a man. She spends almost the whole first act being confused and indecisive. She is totally reliant on Clive to provide her guidance and direction. Betty, however, has a sense of adventure. She thinks of a relationship with Harry, the explorer, and wonders about what another kind of life would be like. In Act Two, a new Betty, portrayed by another actor, has gotten a feeling of independence and has evolves into the play’s main protagonist. The second act Betty is older, gives long lectures and offers spontaneous comments.
Edward is Clive’s and Betty’s son. From a young age, he finds he is attracted to men and likes girly things. In Act One, this role is played by a woman. Edward keeps his true feelings hidden in fear of disturbing his conservative father. Over time those qualms fade, but do not vanish. In Act Two the older Edward, now played by a man, discovers that he is well adapted to the role of wife and mother, rather than husband and father. He prefers a steady relationship to sleeping around and often has a hard time getting what he wants.
Victoria is Clive’s and Betty’s daughter. In the first act, Victoria is played by a manikin. But in the second act she becomes a central figure. Victoria tends to depend on others but sometimes is strongly self-reliance. She is non-confrontational and prefers to be the peace-maker.
Harry Bagley is a British explorer and symbolizes the British ideals of courage and discovery. But his fame as an adventurer hides his sexual deviantcy. His presence begins to bring out the deep sexual yearnings of Clive’s family. Finally, Harry is a victim of own his action. He gives up his freedom to avoid persecution for homosexual acts.
Mrs. Saunders is a widow and is independent. She is fearless in wielding her sexuality, and she demands respect from men.
Lin is a brash and open lesbian. She is fearless in letting others know what she thinks. Beneath her bellicose exterior, Lin is unsure she is a good mother. She is openly crass and crude.