Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine debuted at Dartington College of the Arts and then on the London stage in February and March of 1979. Her inspiration for the play was a series of workshops she did with Joint Stock Theatre in 1978 about gender and sexuality. In Cloud Nine she uses controversial portrayals of sexuality and obscene language to force us to question our ideas of acceptable social behaviour. Cloud Nine is a play that contains portrayals of homosexuality, pedophelia, and obscenity.
As a postmodern playwright, Churchill takes aspects of Absurdism and Expressionism, and incorporates them into her characterization and structure. How this affects the play includes the use of cross-casting and doubling, and a two-act structure in which the second act critiques both the British society of Act 1 and the conventions of comic drama.
The first act takes place in 1880 in a British colony in Africa, and shows us the family of Clive, a British colonial civil servant. His son is played by a woman, the mother is played by a man, the black servant is played by a white man, and the baby is played by a doll.
Where Act 1 ends with a parody of the traditional comedy marriage, Act 2 is more fluid: both the characters and the play’s structure open up to new possibilities.