Jamaican Death Rites: Theatre Review of Nine Night

Nine Nights (Free Image of Jamaica Needpix)
Jamaican Death Rites: Theatre Review of Nine Night
Deborah Bell reviews Nine Night

This is a roller-coaster of a play detailing the family dynamics of a Jamaican family in bereavement.  It plays out a family in crisis and turmoil touching on the themes of migration, multiracial relationships, differences and tensions between first and second- generation U.K. born Jamaicans, and touching on the trauma of children left behind who joined their parents and step-siblings in England later.

Nine Night is the Jamaican/Caribbean celebration of the deceased’s life for a continual nine nights until the day of the funeral.  This consists of the family preparing to entertain friends and family by providing food, music and reminiscing – in return, revellers provide comfort and support (financial, emotional, practical).  

Nine Night is a remnant of African culture which has survived the transatlantic slave trade’s aim to destroy all remembrance and reverence to the continent. Kumina – another African tradition – is also briefly referenced.

The playwright Natasha Gordon had a role the night I went to Trafalgar Studios and seems to give the best lines to her Aunt (Cecila Noble), who plays a barnstorming stereotypical Jamaican forthright older woman who dishes out criticism, guidance and guile in equal measure.

This is a work where there is humour, dialect, pathos, intrigue and anger.  

If you go, it is well worth buying a programme – there is an interview with the playwright, Jamaican recipes, an outline of the practice of Nine Night, the Jamaican community in post-war England, and their influence on U.K. culture thereafter. 

These rituals are also practiced on Caribbean islands as diverse as Haiti, Barbados and Grenada, suggesting their African origins.  For examples of how Nine Night is practised in Jamaica, the omnipresent You Tube provides diverse illustrations.