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National Theatre Blog

Nine Night: Nine Questions for Playwright Natasha Gordon

Natasha Gordon, writer of 'Nine Night'

What inspired you to write this play?

The ritual and ceremony around death and funerals is something I’ve always been intrigued by. My family are from Jamaica. I’ve never attended a funeral in Jamaica but in the UK, in whichever part of country the funeral is taking place there are certain elements to the service that are always recognisable, whether the deceased is religious or not.

What makes a Jamaican funeral?

The congregants at the graveside, singing hymms continuously whilst the family - sharing spades - cover the coffin with earth, pour a libation of rum and adorn the freshly dug grave in a splendour of flowers.  A Jamaican or Carribean family wouldn’t see this as a ritual necessarily  – it’s just something you do. You only see it as ritualistic once you’ve attended funeral services from other cultures and realise not everyone has an open casket at the end of the service.

What is the play about?

The play is about grief. When I wrote it I was grappling with how grief moves through us, the importance for ritual and ceremony for some people, yet for others it’s a quieter, private observance that’s important. There can be a conflict between navigating our own grief whilst  honouring the wishes of the dead and managing the expectations of the living.

When did you first experience a ‘Nine Night’?

I experienced the tradition of Nine Night for the first time when my Grandmother passed away four years ago.  I was struck by the importance of the tradition for my Grandmother’s generation and for the people in my family that were born in Jamaica. We don’t like to think of our own mortality, so on the whole, we don’t really talk about death or the difficult stuff around it. My experience of Nine Night was similar. When my Grandmother passed away, as a family we didn’t discuss the ritual or tradition behind Nine Night. We just did it. 

How did you start writing Nine Night?

I wrote a back story and timeline for all of the characters. I thought about the ideas or tensions that I wanted to explore. I spoke to older Jamaicans – family and neighbours about the significance of Nine Night, if any, to them - the responses were very individual. I think I expected there to be a collective experience but, the more I discover about Nine Night, the more I realise that one’s connection to it really differs depending on which part of Jamaica you come from.

How does it feel going from acting to writing?

There are lots of similarities between acting and writing. The work on back story and character that I’ve done on the play, is the same process that I’d go through as an actor. Character, intention, motivations and actions are very much part of  my Actor tool kit. Taking notes, having a go – trying out different ways to say the same thing.  Some of the differences lie in the responsibility. Responsiblity for the whole story. Creating characters that are real, three-dimensional, leaving scope for an actor to breathe life into your words – taking it to another dimension outside of your head. Articulating my vision to many other departments as well as  the director. It can feel overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly exciting.

What do you want people to take away from the piece?

That’s difficult as in lots of ways – I have no idea what the response will be. If I think about the place I was in when I started to write the play, I was grappling with questions that were hard  to answer, in the thick of grief. So maybe it’s something about bracing ourselves to ask questions of our loved ones – how do we want our passing, honoured, but mostly, if people leave having felt moved and having laughed, I’ll be happy.

Roy Alexander Weise is directing – how involved will you be in the rehearsal process?

I’ve known writers be banned from the rehearsal room! So I’ll be on good behaviour! I’ll be around a lot. It’s really important that the director and actor have the space and freedom to own your words and at the same time have built a strong understanding of the play based on what you’ve written. This is the first time that Roy and I are working together. Roy’s a fantastic director and we have an amazing cast – so talented. I can’t wait.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

One of the things I found difficult when writing Nine Night, was tussling with my own confidence and self-belief. I couldn’t imagine how an unformed idea – a jumble of dialogue in my head - could take shape and become a play. Give yourself permission to write your narrative. We may share or be interested in similar stories, but know our own narrative is truest to us – give yourself the time and the permission to write it.

Give yourself permission to write your narrative. We may share or be interested in similar stories, but know our own narrative is truest to us – give yourself the time and the permission to write it.

Nine Night is in the Dorfman Theatre 21 April - 26 May. Book tickets and find out more.