Every year, my sisters and I are treated to a Christmas show by our Aunty Jean and with the scheduling difficulties and train timetables (they all live in the North-West), our choice ended up being Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Almeida, a somewhat different choice to our usual fare, but one which proved to be enjoyable nonetheless.
The first act is set in a nineteenth century British colony somewhere in Africa where all manner of subversive behaviour threatens the traditional Victorian moral code, which with its male colonisation of women is hardly a bed of roses for everyone. Then the second half shifts to Clapham Common and the sexually liberated 1970s, but we retain the same characters, 25 years down their personal timelines. So the contrast in their behaviour is huge and a range of sexual and gender politics issues explored.
Written in 1979, it is hard not to feel that some of it is quite dated, especially around its exploration of gay and lesbian issues and feminism as well, but the humour, most of it directed against men, felt quite bright and sparky and the sheer theatricality of the whole piece means it has a kind of timeless feel to it.
The finely tuned ensemble sink their teeth into the challenges presented with gusto, and perhaps unsurprisingly it is the ones who get to play the kids who seem to have the most fun: Nicola Walker’s sailor-outfitted Edward is a fey delight and James Fleet is hysterical as infant Cathy in the 1970s section. Tobias Menzies was good value for money transferring his arrogance well from his explorer to his controlling husband and Sophie Stanton also impressed with all her parts.
So a highly enjoyable look at how British attitudes have changed over 100 years but also a cautionary tale on pursuing sexual liberation blindly, and invested with the right level of ironic humour to keep the levity in there. A different kind of Christmas treat!