The weird and wonderful world of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine

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Cloud Nine is, in itself, a very unusual, and once revolutionary play. In the play, men play women, women play men, a white man plays the black servant and the entire cast swap parts and era, changing from Victorian colonial Africa to 1979 England. Confusing, I know… for more details go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_9_(play). Don’t say I never give you anything.

 

The preshow was visually pleasant enough. It was exciting to see the Byre’s lovely blue curtain there, making you anticipate the show and serving as a clever reminder that what the audience was about to view was a theatrical performance, rather than real life – an excellent way of dealing with Churchill. However, the music in the preshow was not from the Victorian era. The first piece was Elizabethan dance music and, whilst slightly more appropriate, the piano music did not feel exciting or grand enough for the play and sounded more like a pastiche of classical music than the real thing. Although excusable as this is student work, it suggests a lack of care and really stood out against the professional setting of the Byre.

 

The play opens with singing and, in this production, the singing was not good. Individual voices were lovely, but the singers were not in time, at all, with their backing track or each other. There was also no energy, meaning the actors seemed apologetic for their presence. The exception to this was Matthew Colley, who sang his awkward ‘I am black, but o’ my soul is white” with charming simplicity and truth.

 

Overall, the acting was good. In Act One, Mishia Leggett shone as Edward, the little boy that is a bourgeoning homosexual. She played him with naivety, dignity and, most importantly of all, honesty. You truly believed in that boy and his struggles and strained relationships. Helena Jacques-Morton also stood-out as Ellen, with her femininity and gentle restraint giving way to her strong attraction to Betty (Esmond Sage). Sage was truly stunning. He played Betty with a wry wit, subservience and intelligent observation, creating a truly moving character. Louis Catliff delivered as Harry. He was hysterically funny, with fantastic, subtle stagecraft and energy. In Act Two, knock-out performances were given by Jacques-Morton as Lin, giving a considered performance as the strong, independent woman that wants so desperately to be loved and Douglas, as her daughter, whose phenomenally well-observed physicality was wondrous… there was no question he was a little girl of about seven. Colley played against type as the horrible Martin and did well in the role, creating a dichotomy of debase masculinity against a pleasant affability. However, in Act One in particular, there was miscasting and these characters lacked conviction.

 

The sets (Lucy Reis) were both beautiful. Her hand painted colonial house was brilliantly executed, but made little sense when the characters were moving around the estate or talking through open doors. It did function as a symbol of colonial wealth and a reminder of the Empire’s oppressing past, but it was not a sensible choice. The second act’s set was gorgeous with REAL SWINGS onstage! It was incredibly exciting. Costumes were excellent and Ryan Hay did a magnificent job dressing the cast.

 

Direction was good and Sam Oshins created some really beautiful moments. His vision was fantastic, with Act One being slightly deconstructed – a excellent contrast to the realism of Act Two.

 

Overall, the production was entertaining and I wish Sam Oshins and his team the best of luck in their next theatrical endeavours.

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