A tentative build-up, but boy is it worth it!
Nine Night is a story paying homage to the nine nights celebrating the life of the dead that is a necessity in order to send away the departed who became spirits. While this ritual dates long before the emancipation of the enslaved Jamaican workers, it did not die with time. The cast exist in the home of their recently passed mother, sister, grandmother, friend and potential lover. It is a story of love, memories and the ties that connect us as people above and beyond the bank notes.
The topics discussed and, at times, heartily debated, by writer Natasha Gordon, are relatable to every household and bring audible reaction to a packed audience almost resembling a forum theatre format. It even has someone singing along to what could possibly have been a traditional religious or community song. It is a tradition that I know nothing about from personal experience, but that does in no way distance me from the story and if anything, makes it more important and gripping to be a part of the experience. Seeing how holy an experience it is when the family come together over a short but empowering time is a reminder that we are all human and should come together a lot more often than we do and not just in circumstances of collective healing.
I say it is slow to build as the many bitty units collating to form the story seem less purposeful at the beginning, of course this is most likely due to the introduction of characters and sentiment of the piece, but nonetheless requires a little more attention.
Rebekah Murrell as Anita commands the space and really creates the world wonderfully to ease us into the family drama. Gordon, the multi-talented writer/ actress, equally owns the space with the fully rounded character of Lorraine, making it easier to invest in her performance. Cecilia Nobles’ bold and, at times, stereotypical character Aunt Maggie brings smiles to faces and earns a great deal of laughter. However, Noble also manages to find sincerity and moments that land not just on a comic level. Oliver Alvin-Wilson takes you on such an emotional roller-coaster with such clarity and need for the words that you can’t help but feel the emotions that we all cause each other to feel. Kevin Mathurin’s Uncle Vince is real and there is not a single moment where you doubt the multi-faceted existence of his character. Designer Rajha Shakirt creates a world that we can easily believe in and lots for the actors to play with. Whilst this doesn’t exactly exercise our imagination, it gives us a reflection of the community which we haven’t all experienced.
Director Roy Alexander Weise works magic to make such a complex web of relations very clear. Within this family tree, he finds subtle complexions that make it more than just a biopic, but a story that encourages a strong togetherness. The glue between the units, showing the passing of time, is innovative without us disengaging from the action of the previous scene and helps the action follow through to the next scene. Perhaps the most compelling of all is the brief traditional dance round the table coached by Shelley Maxwell.
The accents and vocal qualities coached by Hazel Holder are at times difficult to understand, but that’s most likely my own ignorance and it works to encourage you to hear and not just listen. Having said that, Holder creates a clear demographic distinction between the characters that have lived longer in Jamaica such as Michelle Greenidge’s bubbly character; Trudy with great bold comedy and those that have lived longer in London such as Lorraine. The outsider of the communal action, Hattie Ladbury playing Sophie, creates a very believable awkward atmosphere which leads to some very funny moments.
Nine Night is an important story of unity that we can all learn a thing or two from; whether that is to turn the other cheek more often or to just commit more time with our family – as you can’t bring paper with you when you’re gone.
Nine Night is playing The Trafalgar Studios until 23 February. For more information and tickets, click here.