Play: Nine NightPlaywright: Natasha Gordon
Theatre: Trafalgar Studios
Director: Roy Alexander Weise
Review by Tamera Heron
Following its successful run at the National Theatre, Nine Night (by the award-winning Natasha Gordon) is notable as the first play written by a Black British woman to hit the West End.
The story focuses on a London-based Jamaican family, celebrating the life of their matriarch Gloria who has passed away after falling gravely ill. To mark her death, her children and grandchildren host a Nine Night wake, a rum-fuelled, laughter-filled, storytelling event which lasts for over a week.
Situated in Gloria’s home, key events unfold in the kitchen, a space where vulnerability is welcome, revelations are spilled, and tears are shed.
Gloria’s granddaughter Anita (Rebekah Murrell) is branded a radical by her family for her fashion choices and progressive opinions, unlike her mother Aunt Maggie (the brilliant and hilarious Cecilia Noble) who is more traditional in her ways, hanging on tightly to the old customs, such as the passing of the spirit.
Aunt Maggie’s son Robert (played by Oliver Alvin-Wilson) wears his loss heavily on his face and in the strain of his voice. However, his argumentative and materialistic behaviour results in a lack of comfort or affection between him and his family. His sister Lorraine (the playwright Natasha Gordon) who cared for Gloria during her final days, is a crumbling pillar, struggling to hold it together until the Nine Night ends.
Such is the quality of the acting that the emotions on display from grief to exuberance, are so raw and relatable that you will recognise yourself and your family within their raised voices, frustrated sighs and reminiscent laughter.
It’s also intriguing to see the different personas that co-exist within a family, particularly when a family member
comes from ‘back home’. As in the case of Trudy (Michelle Greenidge), Robert and Anita’s half-sister, who is introduced as the distant older sibling. Born and raised in Jamaica, she is less understood, the cause of some conflict and is more independent than her British-raised siblings.
Alongside the impressive cast is the inspired set design by Rajha Shakiry. Gloria’s home is full of authentic 70s West Indian stylings, from the crotchet table mats and cellophane covered chairs, to the glass cabinets filled with alcohol and heavy-framed family portraits.
A vibrant Caribbean atmosphere is also evoked through music, from Calypso to Lovers Rock. The loud, bass-heavy tunes transport you to the heart of the party. But the mood changes during the night scenes when the joyful tunes eerily fade as if making space for the return of the late Gloria’s spirit.
Nine Night supplies deep therapy through laughter, and although rooted in British Jamaican rituals, the story is universal. A must see.
Picture credit: Helen Murray
Nine Night is showing in Trafalgar Studios until 23 February 2019.