Study Guide

Cloud 9

By Caryl Churchill

Cloud 9 Introduction

We might as well tell you: Cloud 9 is the dullest, most uptight play we've ever read. A real yawn-fest. Seriously, who can even stay awake during a play that concerns itself with a massive incestuous orgy in the middle of a London park, a game of hide-and-seek in Victorian Colonial Africa that segues into adultery and pedophilia, masturbating grandmothers, a pretty slick necrophilia-themed pickup line, and a sexually frustrated ghost that wants to have an orgy… with his lesbian sister.

Ha. Gotcha.

You're probably sitting there thinking "Uhhh… what? What kind of demented, raunchy play is this? What is even going on here?" Do you not know what to think? Are you clutching your pearls?

Caryl Churchill, like the classic honey badger, doesn't so much care about your "Oh my goodness gracious!" reaction. In fact, she wants you to swoon like a corseted Victorian lady. It's her thing, and it's also very much the project of the decidedly not-dull, anything-but-uptight Cloud 9.

The Obie Award-winning Cloud 9 isn't just out to shock. The core plot of Cloud 9 follows the sexual awakening of a repressed English housewife and the self-acceptance a gay man whose parents tried to stomp out all traces of his femininity from an early age. Good stuff, right?

Churchill also has her big guns aimed at every kind of repression and oppression. In Cloud 9 she tackles not only homophobia, but also the ideas of the patriarchy, colonialism, and the hopelessly antiquated power dynamics of the traditional nuclear family. This is a play that will make you think, even as it makes you gasp. Churchill is here to turn your assumptions about normative roles on their heads.

And she's here to do it with biting wit, song and dance and outrageous romantic and sexual entanglements. When Cloud 9 first hit the stage on Valentine's Day (how romantic! what a great first date that would have been) 1979, people knew as soon as the curtain lifted that they were in for something wild. Some of the female roles are played by men, some of the male roles are played by women, and a black character is played by a white actor. This is a play that literally upends the perceived roles of gender and race.

By the end of this play all this role upheaval makes the audience confused as to what "normal roles" are. And that's the point. Cloud 9 wants us to be confused, because constantly questioning the legitimacy of roles and norms is what keeps roles and norms from becoming fixed and imprisoning.

Cloud 9, for the record, was the play that launched the awesome career of Caryl Churchill. She's gone on to pen twenty-one—count 'em—twenty-one plays and win three more Obie Awards. Not too shabby.

  

What is Cloud 9 About and Why Should I Care?

Let's answer a different question first: Why Shouldn't I Care? Well, you shouldn't care about Cloud 9 if you're a wealthy English straight white man living in one of the English Colonies circa 1880.

Wait, let's amend that: You shouldn't care about Cloud 9 if you're a wealthy English straight white man living in one of the English colonies circa 1880… and have no idea of the inherent violence of colonialism, don't know any women who have been adversely affected by patriarchal society, don't have any kids because you wouldn't want to have to worry about their future in a changing world…

Wait, hold up. Let's amend that again: Everyone should care about Cloud 9.

Are you a woman? You should care. Do you know any women? You should care? Are you a person of color? You should care. Do you know any people of color? You should care. Are you LGBTQIA? You should care? Do you know anyone who is LGBTQIA? You should care. Are you a child? You should care. Were you once a child? You should care.

Oh yeah… and do you like reading brilliant literature? Then you should also care.

This Obie Award-winning play by Caryl Churchill delves deep into questioning the roles that society asks everyone to fit into. We're talking about a gay man whose parents force him to act less feminine. We're also talking about a little girl who embraces femininity but whose mother wants her to act less feminine because she's worried about enforcing gender roles.

We're talking about a repressed housewife who finally has her sexual awakening in old age. We're also talking about an aging patriarch whose acceptance of his role has forced him to undermine his wife, discipline his kids harshly and generally act like a jerk. The idea of stringent roles affects everyone. And Cloud 9 tackles the ideas of roles and norms with total hilarity, unparalleled raunchiness, song and dance, and scenes of orgies in the middle of a London park.

Cloud 9 Resources

Websites

Caryl Churchill at British Council Literature
For a great timeline of Churchill's career as a playwright, check out this site.

Churchill at Imagi-Nation.com
This site has a really solid short bio of Churchill.

Churchill on Doollee.com
This site offers some really handy links to all of Churchill's plays. Read 'em all if you get the chance.

Articles and Interviews

Changing the Language of Theatre
This article gives a solid argument for why Caryl Churchill should be considered among the great playwrights in English history.

Guardian Stands by Churchill's "Anti-Semitic" Play
The English newspaper The Guardian decided to stand by its defense of Churchill's play, Seven Jewish Children, even though the play was heavily criticized for being anti-Semitic. Then again, Churchill's no stranger to making people angry.

Churchill by Those Who Know her Best
This interesting article talks about Churchill by interviewing the people who have been closest to her in her career.

Video

Montage of UIC's Performance of Cloud 9
Here's a smashing preview of a performance of Cloud 9 by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Small Stage Production
It's a smaller production of Cloud 9, but this troupe nails the comedic aspects.

Union Theatre Cloud 9
A teasing trailer for a production of Cloud 9 done by London's Union Theatre in 2009.

Audio

Audiobook Download of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls
Caryl Churchill's most famous play comes to life in audiobook form. You can totally listen to it in the car.

Images

Caryl Churchill Today
Here's a pic of the woman herself in recent years. She looks pretty happy about something.

Younger Churchill
Like the title says, this is a pic of Churchill when she's younger. Check out the feather boa. Or is that just a giant coat?

Cloud 9 Celebration
Here we have Clive and his wonderful family celebrating the power of England onstage.

Original Cover for the Play
An awesome rendering of the kinds of ideas Churchill wants to explore in this play.