London Theatre Review: Nine Night at Trafalgar Studios
| By Shanine Salmon
National Theatre’s Nine Night deserves its transfer. Natasha Gordon (who also appears as Lorraine) has written a story that many will relate to; whether it be as a Caribbean dysphoria story or just as a family drama. The play begins with the death of Gloria; matriarch to 3 generations. Her death isn’t a surprise but it is clear her children Robert (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) and Lorraine don’t know how to cope, let alone deal with all the friends and relatives that descend for nine nights of mourning.
When I saw this at the National Theatre, my biggest concern was that it felt like a soap, and there are storylines that feel like conclusions to things we haven’t seen. For example, the arrival of Trudy (Michelle Greenidge), Gloria’s eldest daughter born and raised in Jamaica, makes it feel like there is a history there that we aren’t privy to but that is crucial for the development of the story. Why didn’t Trudy come to stay with her mother and was Lorraine and Robert’s father, Alvin, really to blame? Robert seems to think so and his poor relationship with Alvin continues to dominate his life as he and his wife Sophie (Hattie Ladbury) have avoided having children. Lorraine juggles the role of carer, not only for their late mother but to her daughter and (unseen) granddaughter, Anita and Rosa. The role of Anita (Rebekah Murrell), Lorraine’s daughter, seems to only be there to provide conflict between her and Robert and is one of the many disappointing character developments, mainly because it is clear Gordon has backstories for all of them and is limited by time.
All these interesting characters’ loose ends can be distracting at times. Despite these concerns, it is still a production with a lot of humour, warmth and a real understanding that families are complicated, especially during major life events such as bereavement. Trudy’s arrival signals a distance between her and the British raised siblings, and their shared culture is overwhelmed by their distance and varying relationship with their mother.
The show’s highlight is Aunt Maggie (Cecilia Noble), who offers herself to fix Gloria’s hair because “It looks like a bird nest. She will frighten Jesus” whilst boasting about her own perfect hair (that is clearly a wig). Maggie isn’t just there for comic relief. She serves as a complex character dealing with her own feelings toward her husband Vince’s (Karl Collins) relationship with Gloria.
There is no satisfying conclusion, grief rarely provides one, but it is a warm show which looks at the role black people face in Britain, unwelcome and seeing their products and services sold by Asians. In the light of the Windrush scandal, this production feels timely and it is a rare, strong 21st-century family drama that could go down as a classic, not just as a production that sees black families take centre stage in the West End but as a family drama that will be performed for generations.
Nine Night is playing at Trafalgar Studios through 23 February. Book Nine Night tickets now to guarantee your seats before this transfer comes to an end