Nine Night is Natasha Gordon’s family drama that explores grieving and Jamaican burial traditions in the UK. Contradictorily jam-packed and sparsely populated, Nine Night is a montage of warm family moments and grief infused conflict with a tinge of the supernatural. Touching on issues such as infidelity, growing up without parents, grief and staying true to one’s family traditions, Nine Night stacks the plates of its characters ambitiously high but is not fully able to develop them.
Nine Night mainly takes place in an English kitchen and tells the story the passing of terminally ill Gloria, who was being nursed by her highly organised and underappreciated daughter Lorraine (Franc Ashman), with help from Lorraine’s daughter Anita (Rebekah Murrell) a pseudo-revolutionary and new mother. The family including Lorraine’s self-important brother Robert (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) and his slightly awkward white wife Sophie (Hattie Ladbury) must organise Gloria’s funeral according to the Jamaican tradition of nine nights of celebration until her burial. The children organise this with help and criticism from their relatives the show stealing Aunt Maggie (Cecilia Noble) and Uncle Vince (Ricky Fearon). Nine Night lays the familial connections on thick and is convincing in its depiction of a typical multi-generational family who love each other, disagree, argue and cry together.
Noble’s Aunt Maggie garners most of the laughs of the performance, as the uber traditional church aunty full of shady comments about people’s curry goat and appearances. She fearlessly exerts her status as an elder in the family, pushing her way through to see terminally ill Gloria due to dream she’d had where Gloria begged her to read a Psalm from the bible. Ashman is also excellent and recognisable as the dutiful daughter holding everyone together, whilst yearning desperately for acknowledgement or a sign from her dead mother. Gordon’s Robert had a bit too much going on, and it would have been nice to see a leaner more focused character. This would have made room for the development of Anita who we heard dribs and drabs about, but never got to see develop in front of our eyes.
The play boldly deals with Britain’s treatment of the Windrush generation and their descendants, subtly criticising the immigration policy that split up the central family. In a heart-wrenching moment the British born children express their sadness at feeling unwanted by Britain. The direction and stage design are also particularly impressive dually creating the homely familiarity of West Indian household and the faint whispers of the nine nights celebration in the room next door. However, the transition from one night to the other created excess space in the piece making it feel sparse at times and could have been done quicker.
Nine Night is a timely depiction of British family life and its complexities – the perfect antidote to the recent climate. It proudly shows its audience the resilience of the Windrush generation who helped build this country and that British-ness comes in many shapes and sizes.
Nine Night is playing at Dorfman Theatre until 26 May
Photo: Helen Murray