Examine the way in which literary genre establishes the parameters within which the play ‘Cloud Nine’ (Caryl Churchill) can be understood.
Understanding “Cloud 9” by Caryl Churchill through its Theatrical Elements
Theater as an artistic manifestation has suffered many changes through its history, but the basic three-act Aristotelian structure of setup, confrontation and resolution remains as a staple of most of the industry’s productions. Conversely, Caryl Churchill attempts to defy that inherited industry trait, introducing not only twists but aiming to go further and restructure the plays to an extent where seeing a structure can prove a challenge. However, this does not mean that Churchill’s plays lack a structure. On the contrary, her plays are carefully weaved to be easily understood, yet they require the involvement of the spectator and not a mere passivity. Consequently, in her plays, the audience also plays a role, as their beliefs are questioned and as well as they challenge the elements of the play. Hence, Churchill’s plays can be seen as a product of her experimentation with the dramatic forms. Moreover, by eliciting questions from the audience, the author challenges the conventional perceptions of theater, as well the spectators’ thought patterns, particularly those related to women and homosexuality (Seal 203). Therefore, Cloud 9 can be seen in such optic, it serves the purpose of entertaining, but it is not its goal. Instead, through careful experimentation and imagery it shows a compelling image of the sexuality and human relationships.
The play is constructed in two acts. The first, markedly comedic and satiric while the second can be seen as the destruction of the values proposed by the first act. Likewise, Churchill’s ability as a playwright is bound to her capacity of analysis on the patterns that maintain an oppressive society such as the Victorian England (Yilmaz 45). For this reason, the dramatic devices she uses have such importance to understand the play. For instance, the technique of fragmenting the actors’ presentation into multiple and often conflicting roles serve to take the performers out of their comfort zones, challenging their perceptions of the character, allowing multiple interpretations among the audience and the actors. Also, using two different sets of the cast in both acts serves as an unsettling element that adds depth to the analysis and challenges the audience’s images of the cast, revealing that the ethnicity and sex of the performers are not as important as the roles they play (Howe 126). Besides, it gives the play an improvisation element that establishes ties with the performance in a theater setting.
On the other hand, the open-ended nature of the play proposes a series of challenges to the spectator since the knot of the story is not centered on a textual argument. Instead, the play relies heavily on in the subtext and in a Barthesian theatricality that is not entirely related to the script, but to the symbols elicited by the play. Hence, rather than a strictly linear plot, it relies on the oppositions and gender politics to convey its message, of an open-ended play that does not look to reflect a historical reality, more than it wants to interact with a series of historical conditions and criticize them (Howe 127). Ultimately, Cloud 9 explores and rejects the values proposed by the patriarchal culture, examining the relations of power between genders. Thus, by shying away from the stereotypical representations of the sexes, along with the ingenious use of the cast and the plot, the author manages to get the audience to think without them noticing.
Howe, A. “Theatricality and Empowerment in the Plays of Caryl Churchill.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism Fall (1989). Print.
Seal, S.K. “Gender Politics in Caryl Churchill‘s Cloud Nine.” A Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 1.2 (2012). Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Yilmaz, N. “Gender Politics and Feminism in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine.” University of Barcelona. University of Barcelona, 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
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