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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Nine Night
National Theatre Summer 2018; Trafalgar Studios Winter 2018 -

A family gathers for an emotionally-charged occasion, and tensions that had always been present burst out under the special pressure of the moment. Plays with this premise make up a significant chunk of the British (The Homecoming, In Celebration) and American (Streetcar, Long Day's Journey) repertoires.

Natasha Gordon's play, seen at the National Theatre earlier this year and now transferred for a West End run, brings new life to the genre by examining a culture too often neglected by the theatre and by exploiting the natural emotional expressiveness of that group, to both comic and dramatic ends.

The matriarch of a British family with Jamaican roots dies and the clan gathers for the traditional nine days of mixed mourning and celebrating, a custom roughly akin to the seven-day Jewish 'sitting shiva' but in practice a little more like nine Irish wakes in a row.

Every family is made up of types, and the occasion brings the roles into high focus. One adult daughter, who was mother's primary carer, is now left to do all the work of hostess, funeral arranger and general dogsbody.

The auntie who is always right and eager to tell everyone else that they're wrong comes into full bloom as enthusiastic critic and nay-sayer. Male members of the family who are not by nature very open with their emotions now seem actively cold and unfeeling in their stoicism.

Meanwhile, every hint of a disagreement releases sibling rivalries and other normally controlled grudges and resentments. The one daughter who was left behind in Jamaica and always held up to the others as impossibly perfect arrives and reveals that she has had her own lifetime of resentment at being exiled.

And further complications and conflicts arise from the simple fact that life does go on. One woman is newly pregnant, one man is in the middle of a major business deal he can't ignore.

All this goes on among characters who are not subdued or inhibited in their expression of their feelings, and the result is a play about a death that is startlingly full of life.

Much of it notably that boisterously disapproving aunt is hilariously funny; much of it notably that Jamaican sister who enters as a comic character and then gets to express real unhappiness will catch you up short with its convincing seriousness.

Director Roy Alexander Weise captures all the ethnic energy of the characters and setting without letting them lapse into caricature or cliche, and the acting honours go to Cecilia Noble as the scene-stealing aunt, Michelle Greenidge as the long-lost sister who is not the villain we expect and, in an unshowy role that is actually the emotional spine of the play, Natasha Gordon as the one who just gets on with doing all the work.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Nine Night - Trafalgar Studios 2018  
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