Clive, a British administrator stationed in Africa. A stereotypical Victorian, Clive constantly cites his duty to God, the British Empire, the queen, and his family as motivation for his behavior. Like the other characters, Clive is a caricature who is both humorous and a painful reminder of social problems. As a Victorian colonialist, he is narrow-minded, hypocritical, and blind to the injustice done to the native Africans on whom his comfort depends. He continues to dominate his family and the natives only with difficulty, however, and act 1 ends with Clive’s son watching silently as the faithful native servant raises a rifle to shoot Clive. Apparently Clive is not killed, however, because he reappears briefly at the end of act 2 to lament the fall of the British Empire. Clive’s Victorian system of colonial repression parallels the system of sexual repression in the 1970’s of act 2.
Betty, Clive’s wife. In act 1, Betty “is played by a man because she wants to be what men want her to be.” She identifies her duty as waiting patiently for Clive and the other men to order and control the world. In act 2, Betty, who has left Clive, is played by a woman, because she is coming to know herself better. At the play’s close, Betty from act 1 reappears and the two Bettys embrace, indicating how far Betty has come in achieving wholeness and promising a world of reconciliation.
Joshua, Clive’s black servant, “played by a white man because he wants to be what whites want him to be.” Joshua separates himself from other natives and serves as Clive’s spy. An unspoken pact with Clive permits Joshua the minor rebellion of impertinence to Betty, as long as he remains absolutely subservient to Clive. His raising of the rifle against Clive at the end of act 1 suggests a native effort to break free of British imperialism.
Edward, Clive’s nine-year-old son, played in act 1 by a woman to highlight Clive’s effort “to impose traditional male behavior on him.” Edward is a lying, sneaking, sniveling child who blames others for his failures and escapes punishment for misbehavior by mouthing all the manly platitudes in which Clive believes. Edward is the product of Victorian colonialism, but his incipient homosexuality indicates that he, too, is about to break out of control. In act 2, Edward, now thirty-four years old, works as a gardener in England. His bisexuality indicates his general uneasiness in the world, but he has grown into a mature appreciation of home, children, and settled relationships.
Victoria, Clive’s two-year-old daughter, played in act 1 by a dummy, which is what her good Victorian parents expect her to be. In act 2, Victoria, now twenty-seven years old, is played by a woman because she is beginning to realize her own identity. She confronts all the women’s issues of the 1970’s, seeking to balance career, marriage, parenting, and new sexual relationships. She even begins to deal with her mother, moving from calling her “Mummy” to calling her “Betty.”
Maud, Clive’s mother-in-law, who lives with him and provides a constant reminder of the good old days when Victorian ideals were more firmly in control.
Ellen, Edward’s governess, who has difficulty making him behave as Clive wishes. She is in love with Betty, but at the end of act 1 she marries Harry Bagley.
Harry Bagley, an explorer and a friend of Clive. Betty is attracted to him, and they carry on a flirtation, but Harry is really a homosexual. His socially acceptable marriage to Ellen...
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denies both individuals’ sexual preferences and represents repressive Victorian control over sexual behavior. Harry reappears briefly and silently in act 2, when Gerry picks him up for a homosexual encounter.
Mrs. Saunders, a widow who is having an affair with Clive. She is played by the actress who plays Ellen to indicate the parallels between their characters. Clive finds her as dark and mysterious as the continent, and her freedom of thought and behavior hints at the eventual emancipation of Victorian women.
Martin, Victoria’s husband in act 2. He works to be helpful and supportive of his emancipated wife but has as much difficulty creating new patterns of behavior as do the women and occasionally continues to dominate Victoria.
Lin, Victoria’s lesbian friend in act 2, whose professed hatred for men highlights Victoria’s more moderate position.
Cathy, Lin’s daughter, whose desire to carry a rifle and wear pink dresses indicates the uneasiness of sexual roles in the 1970’s. Cathy is played by a man “partly as a reversal of Edward being played by a woman” and partly to indicate the “emotional force of young children.”
Gerry, Edward’s homosexual lover, who is as inconsiderate, manipulative, and insensitive to Edward as Clive was to Betty in act 1.
Soldier, the ghost of Lin’s brother, who was killed while serving with the British army in Northern Ireland, where the colonialism of act 1 is playing out its bitter end.
Harry Bagley Harry Bagley is an explorer and a friend of Clive. Clive regards him as an eccentric—a bit of a poet as well as a hothead. Betty says he is a bore and a heavy drinker, but when Harry visits Clive and his family, she falls in love with him because he kisses her and says he needs her. However, Harry is bisexual, and his main interest appears to be males of any description. It is revealed that on a previous visit he seduced Edward, and he also propositions Joshua and Clive. Clive is horrified by this and tells Harry he must marry. So, to keep up the appearance of propriety, Harry marries Ellen.
Betty Betty is Clive’s wife and is played by a man. Betty accepts her role as the dutiful Victorian wife, living only for her husband. But she finds her life monotonous and boring. When Harry arrives, she allows herself to develop a passion for him, which Clive, who finds out about it through Joshua, tells her she must overcome. Betty’s unfaithfulness, however, does not prevent her from becoming jealous when Clive kisses Mrs. Saunders.
In act two, Betty reappears and is twenty-five years older. This time she is played by a woman. She has decided to leave her husband, and at first she has difficulty building an independent life for herself. But she finds her feet when she gets a job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. She also learns to explore her own sexuality through masturbation. She no longer lives entirely for and through a man.
Cathy Cathy is the four-year-old daughter of Lin. She is played by a man. In the park, Cathy amuses herself by painting and playing with guns, and she also likes to play with a group of boys called the Dead Hand Gang. But she has refused to wear jeans at school since the other children called her a boy. She now wears only dresses.
Clive Clive is a British colonial administrator, married to Betty. He is a loyal, patriotic servant of the British Empire, and he has a patronizing and sometimes brutal attitude toward the local Africans, whom he does not trust. Clive is soaked in Victorian moral values. He takes great pride in presiding over his family and has rigid ideas about the way each member should behave. He believes that his son Edward should not play with dolls, for example, and he would take any show of independence by a woman as an insult. He is also shocked by homosexuality, as is seen when his friend misinterprets his comments about male friendship and makes a sexual advance. But Clive is also a hypocrite because he wastes no time in seducing Mrs. Saunders and constantly lusts after her. Clive returns briefly at the end of act two to say that he does not feel the same about Betty as he once did.
Edward Edward is the nine-year-old son of Clive and Betty, and he is played by a woman. Edward likes dolls, although this displeases both his parents. His father wants him to act like a man, and his mother instructs him not to tell anyone at school that he likes dolls, because then they will not speak to him or let him play cricket. Edward may harbor a secret hatred of his father, because he does nothing to intervene in the last moment of act one, when Joshua is about to shoot Clive.
In act two, Edward is shown as a man in his thirties. He is gay and lives with Gerry. But their relationship breaks up, and he moves in with Lin, Victoria, and Cathy. He is happy doing housework.
Ellen Ellen is the young governess in charge of Edward and Victoria. She is a lesbian and falls in love with Betty.
Gerry Gerry is a gay man who lives with Edward. He boasts a lot about his sexual life and conquests. After a disagreement with Edward about the terms of their relationship, he moves out of the apartment they share. Gerry is later befriended by Betty.
Joshua Joshua is a black African who is the servant in Clive and Betty’s home. He is played by a white man. Joshua has internalized the values of his employers; he hates his own tribe and does not condemn the killing of his parents by the British. He serves his master, Clive, informing him that the stable boys are not to be trusted and then whipping them as Clive instructs. Joshua also reports to Clive on the illicit attraction between Harry and Betty and on Ellen’s sexual love for Betty. But he also harbors resentment about his subordinate position, which is suggested by his insulting Betty on two occasions. And in the last moment of act one, Joshua points a gun at Clive and is ready to shoot.
Lin Lin appears only in act two. A working-class friend of Victoria, she is a divorced mother (of Cathy) and is also a lesbian. Her husband used to beat her, and she says she hates men. Lin is sexually attracted to Victoria, and eventually the two of them live together along with Edward.
Martin Martin is Victoria’s husband in act two. He is a novelist who claims to be writing a novel about women from the woman’s point of view. He prides himself on being in favor of women’s liberation and believes that he goes out of the way to make his wife happy, but in fact he gets impatient with her indecisiveness and only serves to confuse her. Victoria believes that she is more intelligent than he is, but she is still dominated by him.
Maud Maud is Betty’s mother, and she enjoys giving Betty old-fashioned advice about life and love.
Mrs. Saunders Mrs. Saunders is an independent-minded widow who comes to the home of Clive and his family for safety after the local Africans become threatening. She is seduced by Clive, though she does not like him. She does, however, enjoy the pleasures of sex.
Victoria Victoria is the daughter of Clive and Betty. In act one, she is two years old and is represented only by a doll. In act two, she is married to Martin and has a child, Tommy. Victoria, who reads widely and likes to offer her intellectual insights to her less educated friend Lin, is in a dilemma about whether she should accept a job as a teacher in Manchester that would separate her from her husband. Since she is beginning to assert herself and not be so subordinate to Martin, she eventually decides to take the job. She also experiments with bisexuality, embarking on a sexual affair with Lin. Victoria does not get along with her mother, remarking that after a tenminute conversation with Betty she needs to take a two-hour bath to get over it.