Natasha Gordon’s first play as a writer has transferred after a short run at The National Theatre to the Trafalgar Studios. Focusing on the death of a Jamaican matriarch Gloria, the subsequent mourning period (the “nine night” of the title) and the fragility of family bonds it exposes, this is a stunning piece of theatre.
Gordon plays Lorraine, the daughter of Gloria, mother of Anita, sister to Robert and half sister to Trudy. When Gloria reaches the final stages of cancer, Lorraine takes voluntary redundancy to care for her and allow her to die in her own home. After Gloria’s death, Lorraine has the responsibility of managing “nine night” the Jamaican tradition of open house with food, drink and music for nine nights after the death to allow friends and relatives to pay their respects.
As each night passes the cracks within the family start to show, exacerbated by the unexpected arrival of Trudy, Gloria’s eldest daughter who she left in Jamaica with her grandmother when she moved to England in search of a better life.
This play has all the elements you could want for a perfect drama. It is extremely funny, challenging and heart-breaking. The sparring within the family, particular across the generations is superbly observed. The shadow of the recent Windrush scandal, which saw British citizens from the Caribbean being deported, whispers through this piece and underpins some heavy emotive exchanges.
Within a very strong cast, Cecelia Noble playing Aunt Maggie steals the show as the hilarious opinionated old wind bag, insistent the family observes all the Jamaican traditions out of respect for Gloria, despite her own disrespect for the woman in life and in death. This is a fantastically written character, constantly dispensing unwanted advice and making bitchy asides while demanding respect and insisting no child can correct her even if those children are in their 40s. Noble deserves every award that will hopefully come her way.
Karl Collins plays her long-suffering husband Uncle Vince. I recently saw Collins in Shabeen at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in which he was excellent. However, he seems a bit too young in this piece to play the 70-something Vince and so the performance lacks a little authenticity.
Michelle Greenidge is superb as Trudy, slowly unfolding a tough exterior to reveal the heart broken child inside. In one scene she argues with Robert and Lorraine about how hard her life was, abandoned in Jamaica by her mother clearly believing she holds the moral high ground. They counter that their upbringing was much tougher with a mother who was never fully present and a life of restriction while they saw everything they could not have being packaged and sent overseas to their unknown older sister.
This is a powerful, funny, emotional play with dysfunctional family drama on a Shakespearean scale! I would encourage everyone to see.
Reveiwed by Emma Heath
Photo: Helen Murray
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