At the Havana Theatre
1212 Commercial Drive
through May 28
Tickets: $15 advance, $20 at the door
Everyone’s doing it in Cloud
with women, men with men, women with women, husbands with wives
(rarely), masters with servants, adults with children, brothers
with sisters. And when they’re not doing it or talking about
doing it with others, they’re doing it to themselves.
For English playwright Caryl Churchill, the
British Empire was founded not on the playing fields of Eton but
in the bedrooms, barns and back-alleys of colonial
Africa and contemporary London. Written at the height of the 1970s sexual revolution
and women‘s liberation movement, Cloud
9 equates colonial oppression with
sexual repression. It imagines an England freed from its own patriarchal history
by individuals who liberate themselves from the prescriptions of traditional
The play takes interesting liberties with
chronology and casting, introducing us to a British colonial family
in Africa in late Victorian times, then to
the same family in London a century later--but the characters have aged only
To underline the absurdity of sexual and
racial attitudes, Churchill specifies that the colonial wife be
played by a man (Anthony F. Ingram), her son by
a woman (Anna Hagan), the African servant by a white actor (Bert Steinmanis)
daughter by a rag doll. All the actors are then double-cast for Act Two
so that the large man who plays the family patriarch in Africa
a hairy-legged little girl in a frock in London. Ingram, playing the mother
Act One, becomes her gay son in Act Two, while Hagan moves from playing
the son to being his mother.
These confusions are much easier to follow
on stage than in print, and way more fun. Britannia may rule the
waves but chaos rules the bedroom.
seductions seething just beneath the surface of the supposedly happy,
orderly Imperial family make for hilarious hypocrisy. Good old
Victorian duty and
discipline barely manage to keep this outpost of Empire from disintegrating.
The tone becomes more earnest in Act Two
when the contemporary characters start to figure out how to liberate
themselves. Like most things Seventies,
a dated quality of cheesy excess in the route they take to Utopia: orgies and
incest, goddess worship, and frank talk of masturbation. Thankfully, big John
Prowse as hairy-legged little Cathy careens through the act leaving delightful
kiddie-chaos in his/her wake.
Ian Alexander Martin directs this bare-bones
production with a nice sense of the play’s rhythms and gets mostly very good work from his actors. Hagan
is lovely as the Act Two mother adjusting to life on her own, and Steinmanis
has two strong turns as the African servant and a contemporary gay men. Ingram’s
gentle effeminacy, as mother and son, grew on me. Matthew Bissett, Valerie Sing
Turner and T Weir round out the solid cast.
If all politics is really just sex, think
of the possibilities for us this week!