On Cloud Nine
I first encountered Caryl Churchill when I was doing my A Levels, many moons ago. It was her play, Cloud 9, that captured me and her writing has held me enthralled ever since. It was the structure of the play, not just the content, that caught my attention, although it would be fair to say that the politics it spoke about shouted at me loudly. Act 1 is set in British colonial Africa in Victorian times, and Act 2 is set in a London park in 1979. However, between the acts only twenty-five years pass for the characters. Each actor plays one role in Act 1 and a different role in Act 2 – the characters who appear in both acts are played by different actors in the first and second. Act 1 parodies the conventional comedy genre and satirizes Victorian society and colonialism. Act 2 shows what could happen when the restrictions of both the genre of comedy and Victorian ideology are loosened in the more permissive 1970s. The play uses controversial portrayals of sexuality and obscene language and establishes a parallel between colonial and sexual oppression – and it made laugh! Also it was developed inconjunction with Joint Stock Theatre Company who were taking the British theatre world by storm at the time with a new way of working, developing plays with well-known playwrights, in the rehearsal room. The company is no more, but has given birth to Out of Joint, which was founded by Max Stafford-Clark, one of the original members of Joint Stock. . . . . . . . And why am I reminiscing about the play today? Well, Churchill (pictured above) is about to open two new plays at London’s Royal Court Theatre. Her writing career has spanned more than 50 years and her influence on Western theatre has been significant, and for me, satisfyingly controversial. You can read about her work and the two new plays in a fantastic article, Caryl Churchill: changing the language of theatre. Therefore it also seems fitting that I should return to a post I made in June, “there aren’t bloody well enough parts for women” which bemoaned the lack of roles for women in theatre. Well, Churchill has gone a long way to address this in her career and it caught my notice that an all female version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as about to open at the Donmar Warehouse in London. One writer commented that “The Donmar’s gender switch of Shakespeare’s play could turn a dusty GCSE set text into something much more Pussy Riot”. An interesting thought!
Pingback: The Churchillian Way | The IB Theatre Reading Room Asia