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Why we need more plays like Nine Night and less like Absolute Hell

It was a delight to be part of such an engaged audience and one which is more reflective of London's diversity. And it doesn't happen anywhere near as much as it should do.

I saw Absolute Hell and Nine Night on consecutive nights and seeing the latter served to highlight all that I felt was wrong with the former.

Nine-night-mobileherospot-2160x2160pxAn unfair comparison you might say but there are parallels between the two plays and they also represent where theatreland is at the moment and where it should be moving.

First, a bit about Nine Night, although if you want to read a full review I suggest starting with Ought To Be Clowns which is spot on.

Family tension

It is a new play by Natasha Gordon set in the London house of a Jamaican family where they are observing the traditional nine nights of mourning after mother, grandmother and great-grandmother Gloria dies.

This traditional way of mourning involves inviting friends and family over for food, drink (lots of drink) and dancing.

Grief coupled with having extended family in such close proximity for an extended period inevitably means tension. Secrets are unearthed, prejudices and hurts are revealed.

Rich and vibrant characters

Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell (see my review here) is similarly set in one location and both plays have rich and vibrant characters but from here the two diverge.

Nine Night gives you access to the characters which Absolute Hell doesn't. Gordon writes meaningful interactions which are scarce in Ackland's play. 

And Absolute Hell is shy on plot, hinting at revelations and failing to deliver. Instead what you get is a groundhog-day style repetition of encounters that, after three hours of play leave you a bit bored.

Breathless and buzzing

Gordon's play is one hour and 5o minutes long without an interval and you walk out breathless and buzzing.

It is a play that has soul. It is funny, it is sad, it is sassy and there are moments that genuinely made the audience gasp - more on that in a moment.

Nine Night may centre on a death but it feels so full of life.

While Absolute Hell centres on a bunch of people numb to the world, repeating the same mistakes and saying 'woe is me'. 


Nine Night feels like you are watching real people, with real issues and real struggles. 

I'm not saying the struggles in Absolute Hell aren't real - I've seen people get stuck in self-destructive cycles - but with little by way of plot it didn't make for interesting enough theatre.

And not only is Nine Night a more interesting play it also attracted an age and ethnically diverse audience who were fully engaged and weren't shy in showing it - and I'm not just talking about the laughs and gasps.

Finger snapping

There were two ladies in front of me quietly finishing some of the familiar sayings the older characters used and I actually didn't mind. Barbed or sassy comments were sometimes met with the snapping of fingers or a single clap.

It was a delight to be part of such an engaged audience and one which is more reflective of London's diversity.

And it doesn't happen anywhere near as much as it should do.

Dire need

Plays like Nine Night illustrate the dire need for more inclusive and diverse theatre that will attract and be enjoyed by a more diverse audience.

The experience reminded me of watching the RSC's Hamlet at the Hackney Empire back in March. It was set in Africa with a predominantly black cast and the audience included everyone from school kids to pensioners from a variety of backgrounds.

When drummers started playing a group of teenagers got up and starting dancing along - they were so swept along by the play and I wanted to join them.

So while this isn't a traditional review of Nine Night, I'm still going to finish with a star rating: ***** and a plea for more plays like this please.

Nine Night is at the National Theatre until 26 May.

Related content:

Interview with director Roy Alexander Weise from The Stage