Nine Night opens in a kitchen stuck in the 70’s. It’s the kitchen of any British-Jamaican grandmother, warm and full of memories. In Gloria’s house, she is sick and her granddaughter Anita (Rebekah Murrell) and Anita’s mother Lorraine (Franc Ashman) are taking care of her as she battles with cancer. Enter Lorraine’s brother, Robert (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) and his wife Sophie (Hattie Ladbury). The tension between siblings arise.
Gloria passes away.
What follows is the Nine Night, a Caribbean extended wake that lasts for several days. Aunt Maggie (Cecilia Noble), Uncle Vince (Ricky Fearon) and Trudy (Michelle Greenidge), daughter of Gloria, come together to share their condolences and memories while singing and eating food and ultimately releasing the spirit of Gloria.
Nine Night follows this family as they try to come to terms with it but, as with any family, there are malfunctions, secrets, tensions and the realisation than none of them is perfect.
Every performance is amazing. We laugh with Aunt Maggie, who represents the Windrush generation; one that has come to adapt to the new culture and society they live in while being strongly rooted in a Jamaican heritage. We cry with Lorraine, the dutiful daughter who does everything for her family without ever getting the recognition and love she deserves. She can’t let go and it’s heart wrenching. Robert represents the complexity of being born in England, yet never being fully accepted as a true British, trying to make something of himself while not wanting kids because he doesn’t want his own child to be seen as an “animal”, feeling that Robert has experienced before especially when meeting Sophie’s family for what was probably the first and only time they met. Anita is the newest generation who tries to experience with her afro hair but doesn’t have any interest in religion or Jamaican traditions. Yet as the play evolves, she comes, at least for one night, to fully embrace her heritage and to even believe in God. Uncle Vince is the quiet father figure, he is full of wisdom and we love being with him for that one moment the stage is all his. Finally Trudy comes in straight from Jamaica. Her performance is colourful and lively yet underlines the difficulties of having a family split across an Ocean.
While Nine Night follows a Jamaican family, the themes are universal – we all laugh, and we all cry. It’s beautifully written, directed and acted.
Nine Night plays at the National Theatre until May 26th.