witkogravel
30th November 2022

Review: Skies in the Cloud (UMDS)

Skies in the Cloud exhibits intimate and ethereal themes, showcasing the talent of UMDS students
Review: Skies in the Cloud (UMDS)
Photo: Dylan Little @dcl.mp4

The audiences of the UoM’s Drama Society’s plays are yet again swept off their feet by Skies in the Cloud written and directed by Martha Jamieson. After Zee (Ruby Woods) spots a mysterious figure amongst the clouds as a child she can’t stop thinking about it. One night, after years of intrigue and speculative drawing of civilisations in clouds, she gets a visit from a faint figure outside her bedroom window… why it’s Wren (Loie Milne), a particle person from the clouds above!

As soon as you sat down amongst the audience, the delicate and intimate nature of the story was apparent. The set was designed by Martha Jamieson and Carmen Kemper. It consisted of a double bed with blankets and shelves, soft white baskets, and a hanging window which made up the bedroom of Zee. And in a corner behind and looking around at everything was the curious and reserved character of Wren, pleasantly taking in the surroundings.

Zee appears out of nowhere and starts explaining Heterotopias. Worlds within worlds, mirroring yet upsetting what is outside, and Utopic places with ideal perfection which only exist in the mind. She does this by addressing the audience on a blackboard she repeatedly hauls from behind them. This classroom lecture from the six year-old helps set up an idea of a possible another world. During this Wren begins hanging up clouds behind the girl, each one gradually getting darker from a clean white to a stormy cloud. This creatively started to develop the idea of an ethereal world. Always looking down on us from above and also it seemed quite sadly a sense of foreboding.

Zee goes on to explain the story with full vigour and animation of how her fascination all started: a walk with her grandmother at the age of 6. They were gazing at clouds, her grandmother pointed out a dog behind them, and when she turned back at the cloud, something was there, for a moment, maybe something she shouldn’t have seen, an accident. A person in the clouds. Not content with her grandmother, ex-geography teacher’s scientific explanations, she believes there is more to this appearance.

Being the overly eager, creative, and energetic girl that she is, she can’t stop talking about a possible ethereal world above! Zee explores theories about a world where clouds are made of tiny cloud people and where rain is made from the break-up of two rain people! Or at least until her parents get worried about her, but she never stops thinking about it. She paints and draws cities in the clouds, distributed on the floor of the stage. Though Zee grows older and goes off to university the experience stays with her. Despite how weird it may seem, even as she begins entering the rational, logical, mechanical, reasonable world of adulthood.

Throughout this soliloquy, the amiable Wren dances around upstage with cloud-like lightness observing the bubbly, rambunctious Zee as she grows up, and never abandoning her. Wren even makes it snow whenever winter comes around, precisely and sensitively letting cut-out snowflakes shimmer to the ground and throwing them up again.

One night something extraordinary happens. As Zee is getting ready for bed, a ghostly figure appears out of the mist on the other side of the hanging window which perfectly portrays the fantastical nature of what is to come. Zee notices and stares in shock, but before she can say anything the face disappears.

The next night, Zee determined to find out what this otherly figure is doing stays up all night intently watching the window. This time Wren approaches the window but doesn’t shy away, Zee greets her and invites her in. Before Wren can say anything Zee absolutely must know if Wren is from “up there” and when Wren confirms, Zee can’t hide her amazement, this is all she’s been dreaming about all these years. She pulls up a couple of stools, high enough so that all in the audience can see this first sensitive encounter between these people from worlds so near yet so different.

Both slowly begin to teach and learn from each other every night. And every night the two become closer and closer with hints of a delicate romance commencing. The first interaction is acutely carried out, with Zee asking questions slowly, and attentively, while Wren (slightly socially awkward) tries to understand how things work on the planet’s surface. Attempting to get accustomed to things like Zee’s Percy Pig addiction or dancing!

Several lively beautiful dances expertly choreographed by Amari Creak show the pair boogie, hop and swing and twist to ‘Trouble’ by Shampoo or ‘Back for Good’ by Gary Barlow. The dancing was well balanced between facing and showing the audience and dancing together to create intimacy. The chemistry between the two was easily and gradually increasing with every night they saw each other.

Though the two always got painfully close, they barely touched each other, their two worlds apparently not quite able to mix. Their connection seemed so strong despite this that when they were together, they might as well have been in each other’s arms. When they almost kissed, they seemed not to need it, already surely connected, nevertheless upsetting many an audience member.

Zee and the audience get to learn their fair bit about how particle people in the clouds work to produce rain and are happy when the sun is out as they can rest. The particle people work tightly packed together and every now and then they have particle shake-ups where they get to meet others. Therefore, Wren is unique and a curious observer. She went out of her way to come down and meet the girl she felt a special connection with back when they were both six years-old. Back when they caught a glimpse of each other across the sky.

Every night however came to an end and Wren had to go home to sleep in the clouds. And the lights changed and the projector at the back showed the sunrise developing out of the night sky. One night Wren has something important to say. While Zee doesn’t want to believe her ears, Wren nervously explains the truth of their circumstance. Wren came down to save Zee from being called to the afterlife.

If Zee knew about the particle people, her passing could be delayed, and she could continue her studies at the university that she so loved. Wren, however, must pay the price for visiting a human and is going to turn into rain. The only time they will be together again is when it rains. Poor Zee proclaims she will always wait for the rain, and never wear a coat. Though Wren explains that Zee won’t remember her, she will feel something deep inside herself, a nostalgia, she just won’t know why.

The final scene brings us out of known laws of reality as an unnaturalistic white wash fills the performance space. Wren and Zee have a drink as if on a date, as Martha Jamieson explains, these two only wanted something so simple as to spend some time together. So here Zee embraces the Utopia of her memories with Wren and they dance one last dance together. As ‘A Table for Two’ by Rae Morris plays we relive the softness and embrace the two had in their relationship. In the end, as they start to head different ways, they get pulled back together by an invisible force and take a breath. Here in Utopia, they get to defy the laws of the complex world into which they were born.

A beautiful tale with a hint of tragedy. Performed charmingly with the help of Maisy Crabtree the producer and the original music composed by Stan Lawrence which helped accentuate every flutter and beat of anticipation throughout. Martha’s story though involving queer characters, was not meant to be a traumatic narrative ark of a queer person coming out.

Very importantly this story doesn’t follow that mould. Instead, it accepts its queer characters as normal and takes the story further into one of romance and love and the difficulties met in its search. The talented creative team and cast ensured this elegant and almost magical story was performed to enthral and amaze.

 

Skies in the Cloud was performed in The University of Manchester’s Student Union Theatre Space to astonish packed audiences 3 nights in a row from November 20 to 22.


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