Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1312
Act I, Scene i
Act I of Cloud Nine is set in a British African colony in the nineteenth century. The first scene takes place on the verandah of a house. After an opening song introduces the characters, Clive tells his wife, Betty, that he is expecting a visitor, Harry Bagley, an explorer. Betty tells Clive that their black servant, Joshua, insulted her, and Clive makes Joshua apologize. Then the family gathers: their children Victoria and Edward; the governess, Ellen; and Betty’s mother, Maud. Edward is looking after Victoria’s doll, which annoys his father because he thinks this is unmasculine. Betty is nervous at the thought of entertaining a guest. Mrs. Saunders, a widowed neighbor, arrives to take shelter; the local tribes are preparing for war, and she is afraid to stay in her own house. Harry arrives, and he and Clive speak about the dangerous situation, exhibiting a disdainful view of the indigenous people. Harry and Betty are left alone; they are romantically attracted to each other. The scene ends as Harry, who is bisexual, propositions Joshua for sex.
Act I, Scene ii
A couple of nights later, in an open space some distance from the house, Mrs. Saunders meets with Clive. It is revealed that Clive has already seduced her and has a sexual passion for her, which she goes along with even though she does not like him.
The family gathers for a Christmas picnic. They play a ball game, but the men monopolize it, claiming that the women cannot catch. Then everyone plays hide and seek. Joshua warns Clive that the stable boys are not reliable and are carrying knives. Harry and Betty exchange endearments, and Betty bemoans the fact that they can never be alone. Edward says he loves Harry, and it is clear that they have on former occasions had sex with each other. Betty confides in Ellen that she loves Harry, and Ellen reveals that she is in love with Betty.
Act I, Scene iii
In the house, the women discuss the fact that the stable boys are being flogged, and Mrs. Saunders goes to investigate the situation. Edward is still fond of Victoria’s doll, but Betty takes it away from him and slaps him, and Ellen slaps him also. Edward confesses to the returning Clive that he said bad things about his father, but Clive forgives him because he owned up. Clive reveals that he knows of Betty’s feelings for Harry and is ready to forgive her, but he says she must resist her lustful feelings or they will destroy their marriage.
Act I, Scene iv
On the verandah, Clive tells of a raid by British soldiers on a nearby village. Edward pleads with Harry to stay, while Ellen says she only wants to be with Betty forever. Clive tells Harry that he values male friendship; Harry misinterprets this and makes a sexual advance, which disgusts Clive, who tells Harry that he must save himself by marrying. Mrs. Saunders informs Clive that Joshua’s parents were killed in the British raid, but when Clive offers him a day off, Joshua sides with the British, saying his parents were bad people. Harry proposes marriage to Mrs. Saunders, who is not interested, and then to Ellen.
Act I, Scene v
On the verandah, there is a wedding reception for Harry and Ellen. Ellen confesses to Betty that she knows nothing about lovemaking, but Betty says there is nothing to it. Mrs. Saunders announces that she is leaving the next day, and Clive kisses her, which prompts Betty to lunge at her in a jealous assault. Clive blames Mrs. Saunders and says she must leave instantly. After her departure, Harry makes a speech, the wedding cake is cut, and then Clive makes a speech also, congratulating the couple and saying that all is well. But at that moment, Joshua readies himself to shoot Clive. Edward sees this but does nothing to alert the others.
Act II, Scene i
This scene takes place one hundred years later on a winter afternoon in a London park. Some of the characters from act one reappear, but they are only twenty-five years older. Victoria is married to Martin, and they have a son, Tommy. Victoria’s friend Lin, who is divorced, has a four-year-old girl, Cathy. Cathy plays with a gun as the two women talk about the problems of parenting; Lin says that she is a lesbian and hates men. Edward, who is a gardener at the park, arrives and tells Victoria that their mother is walking there. This is not good news for Victoria, since she does not like her mother. Betty appears with Tommy, who has a bruise from playing rough games. Betty announces that she is going to leave Clive. When Betty leaves, Edward and Victoria express their surprise and consternation, believing that now, both their parents will need a lot of attention. As the scene ends, Lin propositions Victoria for sex.
Act II, Scene ii
In the spring, Edward and his gay lover Gerry are outside in the open air. Edward seeks an explanation of where Gerry was the previous night, but Gerry is evasive. After Edward leaves, Gerry tells of his sexual adventures in a soliloquy. Victoria and Betty talk. Betty says she is worried that she will not be able to manage on her own, now that she has left Clive. She is frightened. Martin tries to offer Victoria support in her dilemma about whether to accept a job in Manchester, but his advice is not much use to her because he is more concerned with demonstrating how good and understanding he is than with helping her. Lin is in love with Victoria and asks her to live with her. Then Lin reveals that her brother, a British soldier, has been killed that morning in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Gerry tells Edward he is bored with their relationship, which is too much like that between husband and wife. Gerry says he is moving out of the apartment they share. Edward expresses amorous interest in his sister, touching her breasts, and she does not object.
Act II, Scene iii
In the park on a summer night, Victoria, Lin, and Edward are drunk. They perform a farcical ceremony in preparation for a sexual orgy. Martin arrives, and the three of them jump on him and try to make love to him. They are interrupted by a stranger who turns out to be Lin’s dead brother, Bill, who is there because he wants sex. As the others leave, Gerry arrives on his own and tells the audience how he picks up lovers in the park. Then all the characters sing a song called Cloud Nine, which is an expression for sexual ecstasy.
Act II, Scene iv
It is an afternoon in late summer. Lin, Edward, and Victoria now live together along with the two children. Betty arrives and announces that she has a job as a doctor’s receptionist and enjoys it. When Betty, Lin, and Victoria leave, Gerry arrives. Edward tells him that he is now unemployed and that in his new domestic situation, he does the housework. Gerry tells him of another sexual adventure; they arrange to meet for a meal. When they leave, Betty returns and tells of her sexual awakening. Victoria reveals that she has decided to go to Manchester. After she leaves, Betty befriends Gerry and invites him to dinner. She says she knows that both her son and Gerry are gay and that this does not distress her. Then Clive appears for the first time since act one and says that he does not feel the same way about Betty that he used to. He also bemoans the loss of the British Empire. Finally, Betty from act one enters, and she and Betty from act two embrace.