An eloquent vision of what it means to be haunted by the past is provided by Natasha Gordon’s stirring debut play Nine Night (Dorfman Theatre at the National), directed by Roy Alexander Weise.
The play is set in London where Gloria, one of the Windrush immigrants is dying and her two adult children are tending to her: Lorraine, her carer for the past three months, and Robert, a pushy entrepreneur. But when Gloria’s life ebbs away, thoughts quickly turn to what happens next and in true Jamaican spirit this inevitably means days of family and friends celebrating her life, all leading up to the Nine Night. This is the ninth night after a person’s death and the most significant of all the gatherings as it is when they say goodbye to the deceased. It is little wonder that Gloria’s cousin Maggie wants to get it absolutely right. With grief affecting everyone in different ways the tension is already running high within the family – particularly between Lorraine and her brother Robert. The fractiousness, however, is set aside when a disruptive new influence enters the house in the form of their half-sister, Trudy, who arrives from Jamaica with a stash of delicacies and a treasury of awful truths.
This is an alternatively tough and tender exploration of family ties and West Indian traditions but Gordon here is dealing with very familiar and universal themes – love, loss, hope, guilt and betrayal, and she displays a finely tuned ear for the humour of everyday life. Although the piece is pretty tight and well-written it does leave a few plot strands unresolved, such as the future of Robert’s relationship with his partner Sophie after she declares she is pregnant and I feel it could have been fleshed out in a little more detail. At times it can be difficult to discern some of the things being said as they’re reeled off in rapid-fire-speech – but you can always be sure of the intention.
Rajha Shakiry’s striking set vividly evokes the kitchen living area in which the action takes place and it is filled with nice little details such as family photos and nostalgic ornaments. Paule Constable’s lighting design gives the set extra character ranging from the atmospheric candlelit vigils to the cold light of day.
Director Roy Alexander Weise draws immaculate performances from his top-flight cast. Cecilia Noble is a joy to behold as Aunt Maggie capturing the character’s mix of piety, homespun wisdom and stinging directness well. The most feeling however comes from Franc Ashman, who displays a touching wounded dignity as the put upon Lorraine – you can sense the stress and grief building up inside her as she is constantly pushed around and not given a moment to mourn her mother in the way she would like to. Oliver Alvin-Wilson is no less impressive as her brother, Robert, whose go-ahead attitude is tested when he offers to cook some chicken wings, while Michelle Greenidge brings a flamboyant energy and certainly makes her presence felt as Trudy.
In short then this is a moving and very funny play with a rich emotional depth that gives a firm voice to the Windrush generation.
Runs until May 26
Box Office: 020 7452 3000Last modified: April 6, 2021