Review - Nine Night at Trafalgar Studios
Given the title, Nine Night, I was expecting Natasha Gordon’s play to really dig into an education of the nine nights mourning ritual; a Caribbean wake tradition that sees relatives celebrate the life of the loved ones with several nights of parties, food and drink. Instead, this play is a thoroughly engrossing family drama set to the backdrop of nine nights, while also dealing with identity and loss in a uniquely delicate way.
Lorraine has taken voluntary redundancy to take care of her ailing mother at her home in London where visitors stream in: Lorraine’s brother Robert and wife Sophie, her daughter Anita, and Aunt Maggine and Uncle Vince. When the time comes, the nine nights is triggered, and this begins a period of parties. While Maggine and Vine, Windrush generation immigrants, are accustomed to this tradition, it takes its toll on Robert and Lorraine. Having moved to Britain with their mother at a young age, they’re torn between the celebration that is expected of them by their heritage, and with grief of the British culture they have grown up with.
But, while Nine Night is set around grief in a specific culture, the issues these characters face are universal: secret pregnancies, sibling tensions, money. Everyone will see a bit of themselves in this play, not least because of the pain about losing a parent that is so achingly acted by Oliver Alvin-Wilson as Robert, and playwright Gordon herself in the role of Lorraine.
Gordon’s writing is sharp: Maggine’s one-liners cut through any under-lying tension in a moment, and that’s thanks to a precise comic performance from, at the performance I saw, Jade Hackett. But the script is also full of volatility, the way death creates tension between loved ones, the clash of culture.
Director Roy Alexander Weise presents this drama with restraint and poignance. Some scenes are full of otherworldly references – many Jamaicans very much believe in spirits and the soul – but these scenes are never over-acted.
With Nine Night following Misty, Trafalgar Studios seems to be carving out a space in the West End to showcase brilliant voices that haven’t been presented like this before. Gordon is the first Black British female writer to have a play in the West End, which in 2018 is astonishing. If others follow Trafalgar’s lead in programming diverse work, which is clearly drawing new audiences, these voices will become the norm and familiar with the mainstream.
But I digress. While some will relate to this play on a very personal level, for me, Nine Night is a compassionate, focussed, funny drama about the toughest time a family could suffer through. It’s a full of touching, profound moments that will have you reflecting on your own family.
Nine Night tickets are available now.