Review - Nine Night at the National Theatre
Theatre is all in the timing, and the opening night of Nine Night coincided with the resignation of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd over misrepresenting her department's immigration stance on the Windrush generation who came to Britain from the West Indies in the 50s and her replacement in the post by Sajid Javid, himself a second-generation migrant. We have become a more assimilated nation, but the tensions still clearly exist with those who wish to keep immigrants out, even those who arrived legitimately and now find their status questioned. Now Gloria, one of those Windrush immigrants, is dying; and her two London-based adult children are tending to her: Lorraine, her carer for the last three months, and Robert, who has a white wife.
But there's a third child Trudy - who was left behind in Jamaica when Gloria came to England - and now belatedly returns. Thus the stage is set for an alternately tough and tender exploration of family ties and West Indian traditions, as the play revolves around Nine-Nights - a series of boisterous wakes - held when the mother passes.
The play may feel slightly formulaic, but it is acted with such warmth that it emerges as both a bracing and embracing family story that we can all relate to.
And it gives a welcome platform to that rare voice to be heard on the London stage: not just a woman playwright, but a BAME one, too. Actor-turned-debut-playwright Natasha Gordon fuels her play with great jokes but also peoples it with vividly created characters.
It shouldn't be such a rarity (and pleasure) to see such a diverse audience enjoying a contemporary original play at the National, but it is. Though there have been wonderful revivals of plays by James Baldwin (The Amen Corner) and August Wilson (Ma Rainey' Black Bottom) about the American black experience here, only Barbers Shop Chronicles recently offered an original British-born black play. Clearly the NT are moving forward to be a National Theatre for all. And that's a welcome step in the right direction.
Photo credit Helen Murray