Caryl Churchill is arguably the world’s greatest living playwright. Cloud Nine, first performed in 1979 is her breakthrough play. Set initially in colonial, Victorian Africa and then time shifting to London more than a hundred years onward, it unpicks the big ideas of love, class, gender politics and sexuality. “It’s a big beast to crack” admits Josh McConville, who over the last few years has become something of a Sydney Theatre Company regular.
Drawn to the strength and cleverness of Churchill’s writing, McConville singles her out as one of the unique voices in theatre. “Her language is something I’ve never come across before. She doesn’t use the naturalistic style that is so common – she’s got her own dream-like world. None of her plays are ever the same.”
Apart from the time shift of over a hundred years – where the characters only age about twenty years – the cast also switch characters after the break. “I’m playing a colonial administrator, the father of the house and in the second half I play a four-year-old girl” says McConville.
Changing times and changing characters serves as a vehicle to explore the norms of society and gender. Why does society put everyone in boxes? Why do boys have to wear blue and girls pink? McConville seems delighted to be deconstructing some stereotypes. “I’m looking forward to playing a four-year-old girl. Finding a voice, finding mannerisms. There’s something freeing about playing a kid who has no pre-conceived ideas. She is a girl but has a lot of male instincts. She likes playing with guns, she likes painting with black. She is an antithesis of what she should be.”
Jul 1-Aug 12, Various performance times. Sydney Theatre Company, The Wharf 1, Pier 4-5, Hickson Road Walsh Bay. $60-$79 Tickets & Info: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or Ph: 02 9250 1777
By Greg Webster.