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Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Act 1

In 1879 Clive and his family, wife Betty, children Edward and Victoria, and mother-in-law Maud, live in an unspecified region of colonial Africa with the family's governess, Ellen, and their African servant, Joshua. As a colonial administrator for the British government, it is Clive's duty to negotiate alliances with the warring native tribes. Drums sound in the distance as the play opens; danger is growing closer by the day. Clive glosses over the threats facing his family when he's with the women and children; he is more open with his friend Harry, a British explorer who has just returned from an expedition. They are also joined by Mrs. Saunders, a widowed neighbor looking for a safe place to weather the native rebellion.

Clive finds Mrs. Saunders's independence to be both unusual and arousing, and they begin a sexual affair despite Mrs. Saunders's intense dislike of Clive's personality. Envious of Mrs. Saunders's appeal and eager to inject a little "danger" in her own life, Betty finds herself attracted to Harry and his adventurous lifestyle. Her proposition that they run away together is met with resistance. Harry insists it's because he likes to think of her as Clive's wife; but it's really because he is gay. His public heterosexual persona disappears in private as he engages in sexual relationships with Joshua and nine-year-old Edward. Yet there is someone who truly desires Betty: Ellen, the governess.

As relations with the natives worsen, so does the atmosphere within the household. Joshua tells Clive about Harry and Betty's relationship. Clive lays all the blame on Betty and refuses to speak to her, but his friendship with Harry remains the same as always until Harry mistakenly makes a pass at Clive. Horrified, Clive insists Harry find a wife to repent for his sins. Mrs. Saunders, who prefers to be single, isn't interested, but Ellen, who knows her time with the family is coming to an end, accepts. Joshua then tells Clive about Ellen's desire for Betty. Instead of thanking him, a disgusted Clive tells Joshua to get out of his sight.

Mrs. Saunders announces her intentions to depart for England on the day of the wedding. Clive kisses her goodbye in front of everyone, which sends Betty into a rage of jealousy. She tackles Mrs. Saunders to the ground. Clive reprimands his lover for abusing his wife and welcomes Betty back into his arms. The modest wedding begins and Clive gives a toast praising the unhappy couple and promising all dangers are in the past. In the background Joshua raises a gun and trains it on Clive. Edward, the only person who notices, covers his ears. The stage goes black.

Act 2

The setting has changed to winter in 1979 London, but only 25 years have passed for the characters. Victoria, now a married adult, and her friend Lin watch their children at the park. Victoria studies while Lin musters up the courage to ask her out. Edward, who is employed as a gardener in the park, arrives with Betty, who announces she is leaving Clive. Lin then asks Victoria to sleep with her. Victoria isn't sure her husband would approve.

Spring arrives. Betty is having a difficult time on her own, finding herself frightened by everything and uncertain of how to spend her time. Victoria's husband, Martin, encourages Victoria to take a job in Manchester, but his delivery is less than supportive. Victoria tells Lin, whom she is now dating, that she wishes Martin could "just be a wife" and go with her instead of playing the martyr. Edward and his lover Gerry break up because Gerry can't handle commitment or Edward's natural inclination to play the role of "wife." Edward, seeking out Victoria for comfort, asks to put his hand on her breast. She finds it arousing; he thinks he might be a lesbian.

By the end of summer, Edward, Lin, and Victoria are all living together. Edward has quit his job at the park and takes care of the house, and they coordinate with Martin to take care of Cathy, Lin's daughter, and Tommy, Victoria's son. Betty has a job as a receptionist at a doctor's office. Victoria and Lin consider taking up Betty on her offer to buy a house for all of them, though Victoria is reluctant to live with her mother again. In a touching monologue, Betty reveals how much she has learned about herself since her divorce and brushes aside the admonishments of her own mother and her ex-husband before embracing the actor who played her in Act 1.

Cloud 9 Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Drums from the warring tribes sound in the distance.

Rising Action

2 Betty feels uneasy around Joshua; Clive placates her.

3 Harry and Betty kiss.

4 Clive performs oral sex on Mrs. Saunders.

5 Edward gives Betty's necklace to Harry.

6 Ellen confesses her romantic feelings to Betty.

7 Edward says he hates Clive.

8 Edward rejects Betty's praise for "being a man."

9 Clive tells Joshua to get out of his sight.

10 Joshua cuts open Victoria's doll.


11 Joshua points a gun at Clive.

Falling Action

12 Betty leaves Clive.

13 Victoria, Edward, and Lin find comfort together.

14 Betty acknowledges her children's life choices.


15 Betty accepts herself for who she is.

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