Cloud 9 – Theatre Guild Student Society

Cloud 9 – Theatre Guild Student Society

“Cloud 9” Act 1 is set in Colonial Africa in Victorian times.  It features Clive, a British Administrator; his wife Betty (portrayed by a male actor); their daughter Victoria, depicted as a plank of wood; Clive’s friend Harry, an explorer and closeted homosexual; Mrs. Saunders, a widowed neighbour; Clive’s son Edward, who likes to play with dolls (portrayed by a female actor); Edward’s nanny (played by the same woman playing Mrs. Saunders); and Joshua, an African servant who knows everything that is going on.  The storyline unfolds as a humorous satire, with a whirlwind of sexual encounters among the characters.

In the second act, the setting shifts to London in 1979, yet the surviving characters have only aged 25 years.  Now portrayed by different actors, they have shed their repressed sexual desires, mirroring the decline of the Empire.  As complicated as this sounds on paper, it strangely makes sense on stage.

Lelum Rathnayake’s portrayal of Joshua is an interesting interpretation, deviating from the playwright’s specifications that originally called for a white actor.  The unique choice of applying white face paint with an air of resentment and defiance prompts intriguing discussions about identity and belonging, particularly as Joshua repeatedly declares, “they are not my people”.  Rathnayake skilfully balances Joshua as an honest and dutiful servant, while subtly revealing the underlying anger simmering beneath the surface.  His contrasting role in the second act as Gerry, a promiscuous homosexual, was bold and dedicated.  Despite facing the challenge of friends in the front row, he remained committed to his character, tackling sensitive material with professionalism amidst audience discomfort.

Charlie Milne delivered a powerful portrayal of Clive, capturing the character’s boorish and prejudiced traits convincingly.  In Act 2 he becomes Cathy, the 5-year-old daughter of his mum’s lesbian lover (Victoria).  However, his portrayal of Cathy in Act 2, while sincere, missed the mark in terms of age accuracy, appearing more like a toddler than a five-year-old girl.  This portrayal could have benefitted from a more restrained approach.

In Act 1, Regan Holmes adeptly portrayed both Ellen and Mrs. Saunders.  Despite a simple change in hairstyle, her performance effectively differentiated between the two characters to the extent that they initially appeared to be played by different actors.

Directed by Rajiv Paranavithana, the production displayed moments of potential.  Despite challenges, the cast of seven actors admirably tackled the complexity of portraying fifteen characters, demonstrating commitment to their roles.  However, the direction occasionally faltered.  This was particularly evident in pacing issues and a sense of under-rehearsed or unblocked scenes in the second act.  Additionally, although some creative choices, such as incorporating a seat in the front row for the cast, missed the mark, they showcased an attempt at innovative staging.  Rajiv Paranavithana’s debut as a Director, while presenting challenges, offers a promising foundation for his future growth.

This is a play that delivers comedy and pathos.  It will also have you occasionally feeling uncomfortable.  There is no doubt that the playwright presents complication in the timeline and in how the characters are cast.  It presents a challenge for the director, performers, and audience.  A challenge worth taking. 


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This production was reviewed by:

Terry Mountstephen
Terry Mountstephen
Terry spent her childhood and young adult life in the theatre with the Bunyips. During that time, and since, she has been involved in every aspect of a production including performing, directing, producing and all jobs in between. Terry is also a performing arts teacher. In 2011 Terry was one of the founders of Zest Theatre Group.

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