CLIVE: The most revolting perversion. Rome fell, Harry, and this sin can destroy an empire.

HARRY: It's not a sin, it's a disease.

CLIVE: A disease more dangerous than diphtheria. Effeminacy is contagious. How I have been deceived. Your face does not look degenerate. Oh Harry, how did you sink to this?

Churchill, Caryl

Cloud Nine
Soler i Arjona, Sara
Ed. cit
Cloud Nine
London: Nick Hern Books, 1989


Caryl Churchill (London, 1938) is a prolific British playwright known for being one of the most influential and notable voices in contemporary theatre. Her works reflect her commitment to socialist and feminist ideology, exploring issues such as gender and sexuality politics. Churchill has been acclaimed for her dramaturgical invention and innovation: her distinctive style is characterized by the link between political commentary and theatrical form. Her most well-known plays include Cloud Nine (1979), Top Girls (1982) and Far Away (2000).


Cloud Nine is a two-act drama first produced in 1979. In a bold attempt to reveal how sexual and colonial oppression are imbricated, Churchill sets the first act in a British colony in Africa in the late 19th century. The play begins with Clive, a patriarch and colonial administrator, and his paean to imperial patriotism, an opening that establishes the framework within which numerous characters will challenge the sexual and gender identities that they have been assigned throughout the play. The second act jumps to contemporary London, a relocation that connects British colonial history with current society.


Cloud Nine offers a bold critique of the Western representational system, especially of the dichotomous and fixed categories of identity on which it relies. Churchill interrogates the dominant and heteropatriarchal definition of masculinity through the protagonist, Clive, whose subjectivity is deeply inscribed in imperialist, patriarchal and homophobic paradigms. During the first act, the power structure that Clive reinforces through his role as colonial administrator and paterfamilias subordinates and marginalizes the non-dominant groups in the play―women, as well as homosexual and racialised men. However, these groups manage to offer resistance to that subordination and marginalisation. Such disruptive potential reaches its peak at the closure of the first act, when the alliance between Clive's homosexual son and his native servant leads to the death of the patriarch, making his oppressive regime collapse: when Joshua raises his gun to shoot Clive, Edward does nothing to warn the others even though he is the only one to see. Freed from the power structure that repressed them, the characters reappear in the second and final act and are now allowed to explore their sexual identities and to transgress the stereotypical roles that they have been assigned by Clive.

The transition between acts is significant for the chronological and geographical disruption introduced by the playwright: whilst the first act takes place in Victorian Africa, the second act is set in contemporary England; however, only twenty-five years have passed for the characters. This conspicuous temporal bisection, as well as the recurrence of most characters in act two, suggest the existence of continuities between Victorian and postcolonial England. Furthermore, the second act’s relocation juxtaposes Africa and London, the ‘periphery’ and the ‘core’ of the empire, thus blurring the boundaries separating the two localities. In this respect, Cloud Nine becomes an example of queer dramaturgy: a theatrical mode that is defined not only by queer or LGTB content, but also by the development of theatrical forms and practices that, in contrast to dominant realist theatre, ‘queer’ fixed notions of character, time and space. Indeed, Cloud Nine ruptures its attachment to realist theatrical parameters by envisioning highly fragmentary notions of time and space. Similarly, Churchill’s choice of casting is unconventional, as the performers do not always match the categories of gender or racial identity assigned to the characters that they represent: the script explicitly requires a man to play Betty, a woman to play Edward and a white man to play Joshua, Clive's black servant.

In short, Churchill’s experimental theatre in Cloud Nine not only offers a critique of British colonial history; by destabilising the boundaries between past and present, the playwright also offers an insightful commentary on contemporary society, still anchored in imperialist, patriarchal, and heterosexist paradigms.



Amkpa, Awam (2004), Theatre and Postcolonial Desires, New York, Routledge.

Brod, Harry and Kaufman, Michael (1994), Theorizing Masculinities, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publications.

Campbell, Alyson, and Farrier, Stephen (eds.) (2016), Queer Dramaturgies: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer, London, Springer.

Soler i Arjona, Sara (2020), "Caryl Churchill. Cloud Nine", Lletra de Dona in Centre de Recerca ADHUC—Teoria, Gènere, Sexualitat / Universitat de Barcelona, fecha de consulta
Edita: ADHUC—Centre de Recerca Teoria, Gènere, Sexualitat
(cc-by-nc-sa 3.0)
Soler i Arjona, Sara

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