Nine Night at National Theatre covers weighty social issues with a light touch

Simon Thomson
Nine Night at National Theatre

Nine Night, is a comic family drama structured around the Jamaican tradition of the same name; a prolonged wake in which family and friends celebrate the life and mourn the passing of a loved one.

It is an accomplished debut by actor-turned-writer Natasha Gordon, presenting the lives of the family of the departed Gloria, who moved to Britain in the 70s. It features a tangled web of children, wives, uncles and grandparents, although churchy Aunt Maggie (Cecilia Noble) drew the most riotous laughter with her piety, homespun wisdom, and judgmental asides. Just as impressive is the gut-wrenching anguish of Michelle Greenidge, as the abandoned Trudy, and the just-about-keeping-it-together restraint of Franc Ashman’s Lorraine.

Lent special prominence by the recent debacle surrounding the government’s treatment of the Windrush generation, Nine Night exemplifies the NT’s dedication to representing the stories of multicultural Britain.

There’s a series of educational events accompanying this production, and it is not always the case, but in this instance the programme really provides added value. There is an essay entitled “Becoming British, Staying Jamaican”, another on the practice of nine night, and a gratifying collection of traditional recipes compiled by the company, which includes curry goat and a fortifying Guinness punch.

Nine Night knits together its characters in a way that honours their Jamaican roots, but shows them embedded in contemporary Britain too. Things take a turn for the supernatural towards the end, and it is deliberately ambiguous whether or not a spirit is passing through, but the fact the play covers weighty social and interpersonal issues with such comic deftness and emotional truth is a testament to the quality of the script, and those tasked with performing it.

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