Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Cloud Nine initiated the third phase, the international phase, of Caryl Churchill’s career. Her early career (1958-1972) was given primarily to radio dramas. In her second phase (1972-1977), she concentrated on plays for the London stage, written without collaboration. In her third phase, Churchill began working with collaborative theater companies for the first time. In the fall of 1978, she worked with Max Stafford-Clark for Joint Stock, a theater collective in which writer, director, and actors together researched a particular subject out of which a play would grow. Cloud Nine had its origin in a three-week workshop on sexual politics. All the members of the collective explored stereotypes and role reversals in games and improvisations, read books, and talked. Next, as she began to compose the play, Churchill focused on what Jean Genet calls “the colonial or feminine mentality of interiorized repression,” drawing parallels between colonial and sexual expression.

From her first radio play, The Ants (pr. 1962), with its insects as resonant images of oppressed individuals in capitalistic society, Churchill has written as both a feminist and a socialist. In Owners (pr. 1972), she suggests the links between sexism and a fundamentally unjust economic system. In Vinegar Tom (pr. 1976), Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (pr. 1976), and several other plays, just as in Cloud Nine, Churchill uses historical scenes to create audience awareness of the deep roots of contemporary inequities. Mad Forest: A Play from Romania (pr., pb. 1990) examines Romania before, during, and after the downfall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, while Striker (pr. 1993), in a blend of history and feminism, depicts a crone character from English folklore stalking and possessing modern women. Blue Heart (pr., pb. 1997) and Far Away (pr. 2000, pb. 2001) rounded out her works from the late twentieth century and used tension, family drama, and traces of absurdism to heighten her message.