A fresh new voice comes to the West End in the form of Natasha Gordon’s debut play Nine Night. A huge wall has been broken down as this is the first production by a black female to grace the West End stage, empowering but should the industry not be shamed by this. Gordon’s play explores an aspect of Caribbean culture that many may not be aware of including the younger generation of British Caribbean families. Nine Night is refreshing in its juxtaposition of being part of two cultures and how different the two cultures deal with death and bereavement. Gordon takes the lead as Lorraine who is torn between the Nine Night Wake tradition and her own grieve when burying her mother in a British Caribbean family. Image credit: © Helen MurrayOliver Alvin-Wilson, Natasha Gordon, Rebekah Murrell, Karl Collins and Cecilia Noble
It is plain to see why this exploration of family rituals sold out at the National Theatre, the play opens with Rebekah Murrell’s Anita who plays Lorraine’s daughter searching for a straw to feed her ailing Grandmother Gloria, the demise of the old woman is quick, and the play goes into the nine days of mourning and as the family mourn the issues bubble to the top. Oliver Alvin-Wilson’s Robert who plays Lorraine’s brother and Karl Collin’s Uncle Vince offer male bonding as they share aspirations and talk about absent fathers.
Enter Cecilia Noble’s Auntie Maggie a larger than life character that provides a hilarious take on the strong Caribbean woman, married to Uncle Vince who she belittles at every opportunity like when he decides to write a poem and Aunty Maggie feigns shock, that he could possibly write anything at all. Despite the laughter there is tears and pain especially for Lorraine who is torn between her British cultural understanding of death and what is before her nine days of loud music, endless visitors and merriment which is supposed to send the dead on their way, this she wants so desperately to believe. Gordon manages to provide the detached shocked mourning daughter who is caught up in the moment and does not know how to dispel her grieve.
21-year-old Anita is the voice of youth and provides the “what’s this all about attitude, I have no idea why we are doing this attitude? Amidst the grieve other stories unfold: the story of abandonment and sibling rivalry as Lorraine’s sister Michelle Greenidge’s Trudy arrives from Jamaica bringing her own sense of humour, alongside the rum and mangos and more rum she brings the devastation felt by being left behind in Jamaica by their mother who came to England to pursue a better life..
For Roger who is married to Hattie Ladbury’s Sophie a white British woman, his issues of having children that are not excepted by his wife’s family because of the colour of their skin are bought to the surface by unexpected news. Rajha Shakiry’s set is the traditional home of an elderly West Indian woman with the battered sofa, signature plastic covered chairs, chintz wallpaper and the glass ornaments.
Director Roy Alexander Weise who is the 19th annual winner of the James Menzies-Kitchin Award has skilfully crafted the moments, the laughter, the tension and tenderness, a nice balance to a play that makes you laugh with the characters and feel their pain. Noble’s Aunt Maggie is loud, and her comedic timing cannot be faulted but it does not drown out Gordon’s well written play, the fullness of the casting and performance, and Karl Collin’s Uncle Vince as the “battered” husband. Well done all round!!
NINE NIGHT a new play by Natasha Gordon
1 December 2018 – 23 February 2019
Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, Westminster, London SW1A 2DY