★★★★☆ | Nine Night
It may come as quite a surprise to learn that Nine Night is the first play from a Black, British female writer to make it to the West End. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.
Nine Night is Natasha Gordon’s deft exploration of the traditions of a West Indian wake, referenced in the title, a time when the departed are honoured and remembered by living relatives over a celebration of nine nights, fuelled with upbeat music, home cooked food and the ever so important in most West Indians drink cabinet – rum! Against this, as the backdrop, the semi-estranged family gather to mourn and then slowly unlock a string of revelations, all in the kitchen.
It is certainly a play for everyone and anyone to enjoy but is most definitely a must-see for anyone of West Indian heritage, a rare chance to see some of the most intimate parts of their culture brought out into the wider public gaze. And while such kitchen-sink dramas have been a staple of British Theatre since the ’60s, few productions have featured so many characters drawn so exquisitely.
For me, the play came to life immediately through its authenticity particularly when the thick Jamaican accented Aunt Maggie and Trudy, cousin and daughter of Gloria respectively, began to speak. It is such a revelation to hear those gorgeous tones, sonic beacons of ethnic diversity uttered from a stage deep in the hallowed ground of the West End.
As I said, it is a play for all but as a West Indian spectator the whole resonated with my background and experiences, I bought into the scenes and scenarios displayed before me, one which tugged my heartstrings, jogged deep-rooted memories and spoke to my very being.
I felt Trudy’s emotion, angst and painful need to be wanted as soon as she appeared on stage but it was only towards the end of the play that I felt that writer’s character, Gloria’s daughter Lorraine, was given a chance to step out of an, up until then, mostly monotonous role and we began to see our writer and storyteller of Nine Night swell with emotion.
It is a testament to the writing and the characters that had been created for them that the rest of the cast each stand their ground memorably, especially in their approach to grieving their beloved matriarch. We witnessed some wilfully theatrical overacting from daughter-in-law Sophie, which wonderfully balanced her husband Robert’s convincingly ill at ease performance. Uncle Vince delivered a humble contrast to his cantankerous wife and introduced some clever and subtle sub-texts about his relationship with the late Gloria.
Even if the scenario is unfamiliar to many in the audience, Aunt Maggie acted as the perfect host, inviting us into the late Gloria’s house and breaking the inherent tensions with her hilarious one-liners; quips and asides that that could strip wallpaper without steam.
Natasha has done a masterful job with the writing and production of Nine Night. I thought it would be interesting to see her role developed more in perhaps an amended version of her character Lorraine. I would certainly watch it again and recommend it heartily to everyone, no matter what their cultural background, as what is at the heart of this smart play is something everyone can relate to.
It’s essential that both Natasha Gordon and Nine Night’s place in theatre history is appreciated: but it’s at least as necessary to remember that it’s a great play – I will certainly drink to that!
Nine Night runs until 23 Feb 2019 at the Trafalgar Studios, CLICK HERE TO BOOK
Running Time: Approx. 1 hour 45 mins no interval
By Ray Si – a member of IGLTA