Trafalgar Studios, London – until 9 February 2018
One day – you hope – we won’t have to comment on such things, but not now, not yet. So we celebrate the fact that Nine Night is the first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End, as Natasha Gordon’s debut makes the move from the National’s smallest space in the Dorfman Theatre to the Trafalgar Studios in one giant leap.
And it does so with a wonderful, well-earned sense of confidence that ought to see the play thrive. I adored it in its run at the National Theatre (where I even predicted the West End transfer) and Roy Alexander Weise’s production has lost none of its power here. Indeed it has even gained some, as Gordon now joins the cast replacing Franc Ashman as Lorraine.
With the death of her mother for whom she was the primary carer, Lorraine’s attentions turn to traditional mourning rituals, the nine days (and nights) of celebrating her life. But bringing together their British Jamaican family at such an emotionally fraught time brings to light all kinds of long-held secrets and deeply-felt tensions as well as tributes and tears.
Gordon’s writing works so well because it is both specific and universal. Family rivalries and plain-spoken elders are deeply recognisable no matter your background and they’re beautifully done here, especially in Cecilia Noble’s titanic performance as the iconic Aunt Maggie. But it is also deeply rooted in the British Jamaican experience, never not relevant but made all the starker by the revelations of this year’s Windrush scandal. Superb.