‘Nine Night’ review

Theatre, Drama Trafalgar Studios , Whitehall Saturday December 1 2018 - Saturday February 9 2019
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray Franc Ashman as Lorraine and Hattie Ladbury as Sophie
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray Cecilia Noble as Aunt Maggie and Ricky Fearon as Uncle Vince
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray Cecilia Noble as Aunt Maggie and Ricky Fearon as Uncle Vince
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray Franc Ashman as Lorraine and Hattie Ladbury as Sophie
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray Franc Ashman as Lorraine
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray Hattie Ladbury as Sophie
 (© Helen Murray)
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© Helen Murray
 (© Helen Murray)
8/11
© Helen Murray
 (© Helen Murray)
9/11
© Helen Murray Oliver Alvin-Wilson as Robert and Franc Ashman as Lorraine
 (© Helen Murray)
10/11
© Helen Murray Rebekah Murrell as Anita
 (© Helen Murray)
11/11
© Helen Murray Ricky Fearon as Uncle Vince

Natasha Gordon’s intense, moving debut play set at a Jamaican wake

‘Nine Night’ transfers to Trafalgar Studios in December. This review is from its run at the National Theatre, Dorfman, in May

The hectic sounds of dancehall music bleed into the British kitchen in which Natasha Gordon’s play unfolds. It comes from a room beyond, where an unseen crowd are celebrating the Jamaican mourning tradition of Nine Night. By staying on the edges of the party, Gordon’s intense, moving play pulls the focus tightly on a grieving family, and the mingled strains and comforts that tradition offers.

For Lorraine (Franc Ashman), hosting the nine nights is a grind, a final torment after her long stint nursing her dying mother, and it means being treated like a skivvy by her extended family and friends. She’s affectionately bullied into keeping tradition alive by her mother’s cousin Maggie – with her broad patois pronouncements, delivered in a high tone of seriousness and punctuated with appeals to God and the heavens, Cecilia Noble gets audience laughs pretty much whenever she opens her mouth. Her narrative about putting Vaseline on her dead friend’s feet to get the stockings on sent shocked convulsions through the audience. As does her biting remark that her Freedom Pass is the only thing she ever got out of discrimination-ridden Britain.

Gordon’s humour isn’t cautious: it’s unafraid to poke at racism, colourism and the insults traded as Jamaica and Britain stare each other down, across centuries of brutal and oppressive history. This history is embodied in British-born Lorraine and her brother Robert’s (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) fraught relationship with their Jamaican sibling Trudy (Michelle Greenidge), each side envying the other, each seeing the other’s opportunities. Lorraine’s daughter Anita (Rebekah Murrell) starts out frustrated by the wake that’s taken over her grandmother’s house. Then she’s swept up in the whirlwind joys of belonging, embraced by a culture that claims her for its own.

At under two hours, ‘Nine Night’ is just too short to explore all the ideas and stories it gestures at. It throws out strands that don’t get resolved, particularly Robert’s ambitions to buy the house, and his wife’s surprise pregnancy. Roy Alexander Weise’s naturalistic production has a screened-off upstairs space that feels strangely underused – I kept expecting it to burst into haunted life.

But these issues are small next to the (literally) knife-edge power of a final scene where Maggie, guardian of traditions, becomes possessed by departing spirits. It says so much about how we rely on family for validation, for confirmation of our identity, placing a weight of need on them that they sometimes just can’t fulfil. It also points to the cathartic power of ritual in a culture whose burial rites are miles away from traditional England’s sad, grey funeral teas.   

By: Alice Saville

Posted:

Venue name: Trafalgar Studios
Contact:
Address: 14
Whitehall
London
SW1A 2DY
Transport: Rail/Tube: Charing Cross; Tube: Embankment
Price: £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min
Event website: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/nine-night
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    • Trafalgar Studios £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min
    • Trafalgar Studios £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min
    • Trafalgar Studios £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min
    • Trafalgar Studios £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min
    • Trafalgar Studios £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min

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    • Trafalgar Studios £15-£40. Runs 1hr 45min
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tastemaker

A play about traditions and the strength of family or lack thereof. The script is peppered with one liners and jokes relating to heritage and family values. Cecelia Noble gets the majority of the laughs as Aunt Maggie, she just had to breathe and it was funny. For me, the stand out performance was Franc Ashman as Lorraine, she had the right amount of grief, resentment and the want to honour her Mother's memory, that one would expect when a parent dies. This is a culture I knew little about and I came away having learnt a lot. The ending is satisfying, if a little unnerving, try and get a ticket if you can!

Tastemaker

This was a highly entertaining yet eye-opening play for me. I learnt a lot about Jamaican culture, and even though I did not fully relate to all the jokes, I could see the audience was roaring with laughter. There was a lot of humour running through the backbone of the play, but there was also a serious side which questioned cultural identities and how much we should cling on to tradition in the face of modernity. I highly recommend the play and the acting was top notch! The set was simple, but this was done on purpose so that it would allow the audience to focus on the top talent on stage. Hurry and see it before the run finishes!