Writer: Mai Weisz
Director: Laura Wohlwend
We inherit far more from earlier generations than just their genes and Mai Weisz’s new drama On Cloud Nine explores the legacy of religion, politics and pain in her Jewish Israeli heritage. Written during a previous lockdown and when in-person performances at the White Bear Theatre were scuppered by further restrictions, this live streamed version was recorded in December and is briefly available on demand until 7 March.
Maia cannot sleep, waking up at 4am and counting the minutes until dawn. As her mind races, a mixture of memories and dreams begin to plague her as the trials of a new relationship become mired in political arguments. As Maia imagines the violence of previous generations that could also be her future, her own multiple identities weigh on her mind.
Weisz’s 45-minute drama is a stream of consciousness that purposefully obscures the line between reality and imagination. How much of the events depicted in On Cloud Nine actually happened to the character and what are projections of her mind are both its biggest asset, creating an engaging fluidity that maintains the viewers attention, but also the show’s most frustrating element as concepts slip and slide without exploring why these markers of identity seem to affect her so particularly.
This complex journey through the many labels that Weisz and others apply to her comes with a heavy burden and some of the show’s sharpest points reflect on how perceptions change when she reveals her nationality, religion and sexuality, all of which are overlaid by external political assumptions about her character, beliefs and interests and other people’s need to classify and define her.
One particularly effective exchange discusses her sexuality; having begun a relationship with an Italian girl she meets in an Arabic Class, this is her first same sex experience, yet Maia is pressured to define herself as bisexual or pansexual despite insisting that it is the person she is attracted to in this instance which cannot be so neatly categorized.
Weisz is also troubled by the long effect of the Holocaust, inserting vividly descriptive segments set in Gaza where she depicts violence and chaos on the streets, worried that she will be branded as ‘other’ and forcibly removed. That Weisz hints at the inevitability of this recurring thought process and even the ingrained belief that eventually it will happen again is something you wish On Cloud Nine would spend far more time exploring.
Using three cameras and no audience, Weisz is able to focus her performance directly towards the viewer, as Director Laura Wohlwend varies the pace by using the different angles to create moments of conversation with a voiceover and the flow of these different narrative strands. Sophie James Frost’s set of draped bedsheets feels like a padded cell but are beautifully and often emotively lit by Chloe Stally-Gibson that add to the atmospheric effect of this production.
On Cloud Nine is an anxious play, riven with worries about the past and how affectingly it intrudes on the present. It becomes a little too abstract as its themes knot together but in this very personal story Weisz is starting to unpick the many aspects of and assumptions about her identities while wondering what baggage she has to shoulder and eventually pass on.
Runs here until 7 March 2021