Cloud 9 is given a solid airing in an hilarious production now showing at Darlinghurst Theatre, confirming the unlikely status of classic granted to this 1970s feminist farce.
The story is as complicated as door-slammers like Boeing, Boeing, but without the shallowness of such comedies. British patriarch Clive (Yure Covich) lives in Africa in the late 1800s with his wife Betty (Thom Campbell, a male actor, as instructed by the script). Clive secretly covets neighbour and widow Mrs Saunders (Holly Austin), while his wife is in love with explorer Harry Bagley (Robert Jago). Bagley is also having sex with the family’s black servant Joshua (played by white actor Adriano Cappelletta), and has also diddled with Clive’s son Edward (played here by Sara Zwangobani, an actor with Zulu heritage).
Act Two leaps ahead to 1979 -“ and everyone’s sexually liberated but just as bewildered about how to be themselves. They’re also only 25 years older, thanks to the magic of theatre.
It’s less confusing and funnier than it sounds, thanks to bold direction and universally strong performances.
Austin effortlessly swings between lowly governess Ellen and independent woman Mrs Saunders with only a bonnet to distinguish them. (She was even convincing during an opening night slip-up when she appeared briefly in the wrong costume.) And top marks for Natasha McNamara as the second act Betty, who stole the show with a breathtaking monologue about rediscovering masturbation in middle age.
There are quibbles. The character of the young daughter Victoria is intended to be played by a dummy in Act One, but the use of a baby doll ruins the gag. The rendition of the anthem Cloud 9 also misfires, and is one of the few moments when the show’s 1979 vintage is laid embarrassingly bare.
Yet the show remains a convincing success, a truly entertaining night at the theatre which had the audience in hysterics and, eventually, in tears.
Cloud 9 is showing at the Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point, until 2 October. Phone 8356 9987.