This is a most bizarre play with lots of surprises. There is no way anyone could guess what was about to happen from one scene to the next, the whole play was totally unpredictable and confusing .
The first act is set in a British Colony in Africa in 1879. The characters consist of Clive (Tim Mcinnerny) a colonial administrator who is married to Betty, who is played by a man (Dominic West). They have a son, Edward, aged 9, played by a women (Janine Duvitski) and a daughter, Victoria, played by a Doll! Then there is Maude (Clare Swinburne) Betty’s mother, Joshua (Stephen Noonan) the servant, Harry Bagley (Andrew Woodall), Clive’s friend. Lastly, Ellen, the governess and Mrs Saunders the neighbour, both played by Marion Bailey. The state of affairs are these: Clive is longing for an affair with Mrs Saunders, Betty wants an affair with Harry who is gay. Edward the son, has a sexual attraction for Harry, ever since Harry interfered with him and Ellen the governess loves Betty. The whole first act is fast, complex and hilarious.
The second act takes place in London in 1979. However for the characters it is only 25 years later! Now the state of affairs are these: Betty, who is now played by Janine Dubitski (the boy from act one) has left her husband . Edward, her son, now played by Dominic West (Betty in act one), is living with his promiscuous boyfriend. However, when his boyfriend leaves him, he goes to live with his sister Victoria, who has left her unhappy marriage to live with a lesbian. Then all three become entangled in a incestuous relationship. The second act loses its way halfway through as it becomes a little repetitive, but soon finds it again.
The cast are superb, particularly Dominic West, who is so funny as Betty . His movements and facial expressions are a dream. Janine Duvitski is also excellent playing the older Betty in the second act. One feels so sorry for her now she is separated from her husband and is feeling lonely. She is missing sex so much. that she has taken up masturbating, something she has not done since her childhood, when she was caught performing the act under the kitchen table by her mother, who strongly disapproved.
I have to admit that although I was enjoying the play, I was desperately trying to work out what it was Caryl Churchill was trying to put across in this drama. Why did homosexuality play such a big part? Is it to do with identity, being who you are irrespective of what others think? To be honest I’m still not sure!
Some strong language is used in this play along with some actions that may offend, however I would not let this stop you from seeing a wonderfully refreshing comic play that is very good, even if one doesn’t quite know what it is all meant to be about.
Appearances can be deceiving, and we are seldom what we seem at first blush. This is part of the message of the Caryl Churchill's 1979 play "Cloud Nine" now being played in rep at the Old Vic. Act I involves the extended family of a colonial administrator in 1879 Africa. They are all British stereotype of old: the patriarch with the stiff upper lip (Tim McInnerny), the dutiful Victorian wife, the macho great white hunter (Andrew Woodall), the subservient native. The twist is that wife Betty is played by a man (Dominic West), son Edward by a woman (Janine Duvitski), and the black family servant by a white actor (Stephen Noonan). And while the sight of a strapping 6-footer in a delicate white dress invokes laughter from the audience, the device underlines the fact that outward appearance and behavior are often desperately at odds with what is inside. Act I is played as a twisted farce: lightning entrances and exits, witty, fast-paced dialogue, everyone trying to seduce everyone else: the family governess is trying to seduce the administrator's wife, who is after her husband's best friend, who is also (reluctantly) fighting the advances of the family's 9 year old son.
One hundred years later in modern London, the Act I characters have grown more comfortable with their roles and identies. The characters (who have only aged 25 years) are now played by actors of their own sex and the humor is more gentle and recognizably human to reflect the growing comfort the characters have with each other and themselves. Edward (now played by Dominic West) is a gardner living with his promiscuous lover Gerry. Edward's sister Vicky (who was played in Act I by a dummy--Victorian children were truly seen and not heard!) becomes a single mum struggling to balance work and her homelife with her lesbian lover Lin (Marion Bailey). Even Betty (Janine Duvitski) becomes liberated as she takes her first unsteady and sweetly humorous steps toward self-discovery.
The performances are top notch all the way around, especially Tim McInnerny and Janine Duvitiski who excel in each of their two wildly different characterisations. Marion Bailey comes on strong as Lin in Act II, and Stephen Noonan is something of a revelation as the servant Joshua and Edward's lover Gerry: cool, sinister, with a barely concealed contempt and rage. He is a young actor to watch.
Churchill explores the hypocrisy of Victorian mores, and modern gender and social roles with incisiveness and humour, and the play is directed with a light hand. However, the evening is not for the faint of heart. Beside the recurrent exploration of homosexuality, there is strong language, incest and brief onstage nudity. If your constitution is of tougher stuff, by all means rush to see "Cloud Nine," a wonderfully played and often hysterically funny piece of modern theatre.