To have your first play staged is an achievement. To have it receive five-star reviews is a success. To have that play transfer to the west end is nothing short of a monumental triumph. The move also makes actor Natasha Gordon the first Black British female playwright to have a west end transfer. So add making history to the actor’s list of accomplishments.

“It’s kind of bonkers,” says Gordon when asked about her debut play Nine Night, which is set around the Jamaican funeral tradition. “I’m still pinching myself really, am black and blue all over. It’s extraordinary.”

As well as her extensive stage roles, including parts in RSC’s As You Like It and the Tricycle’s Red Velvet, Gordon is a familiar face from our TV screens, having starred in episodes of EastEnders and Law and Order: UK to name but a few. So Miro was curious what made the actor turn her hand to writing. Gordon reveals that it was largely frustration at the lack of leading roles for women of colour.

“I never wrote the play as a vehicle for myself. As an actress, when a new debbie tucker green play would come out or someone was doing a revival of Winsome Pinnock or a Roy Williams play, you go, ‘Ah! I might work this year!’”

After an actors’ meeting organised by Gordon’s friend Sharon Duncan Brewster, Gordon decided to ‘have a go’ at writing, saying: “That would have been enough to write a play, and to finish a play is a big deal in itself, to have my friends go ‘Well done, Tash.’  But I just had to know if I could do it or not.”

Far exceeding Gordon’s expectations, Nine Night enjoyed a five-week run at the National Theatre earlier this year and will open at Trafalgar Studios on the 1st of December. Gordon describes the nine-night tradition as a ritual, explaining it’s when family and friends come together for nine days after the death of a loved one. But whilst the play is set around the ritual, Gordon explains it’s more about the characters’ experience.

“Nine night is the umbrella under which the action happens but I think it’s really about family and how we cope with grief. If we want to do something like a nine-night which is more public and celebratory or whether we just want to close the door and take stock. It’s really interesting seeing the players and how they react to it.”

Having grown up in Finsbury Park, Gordon still lives in North London and jokes that she’s never crossed the river. But as a first generation Brit to Jamaican parents her Caribbean heritage was a central influence growing up, including the cultural approach to death.

“Often as a child I’d be told by my mother (puts on Jamaican accent) ‘Don’t step on that spider! Could be your great-great-grandfather!’ So your ancestors are with you, they’re on the other side of life but they’re still with you. I think that makes it easier to talk about and process death in a way.”

The writer shares that her mother now lives between London and Jamaica where it is common to attend funerals where you don’t necessarily know the deceased. “She’ll go to support the neighbour or the friend. They are events, you come together to mourn the death or celebrate their life and share their stories. Maybe there is a sense that when people die they never really go.”

Gordon herself had not experienced a nine-night until her grandmother passed away four years ago when she was already penning her first play. She said she didn’t want to write about her own grief so much as how different people and cultures deal with the emotion. “If that event hadn’t of happened it probably would have looked like a very different play. Might not have got on stage. (Laughs.)”

Gordon comes across as bright and composed, the interview is peppered with pauses as she mulls over each question, using graceful hand gestures to narrate her answers. She explains that Jamaican funeral services are usually twice as long as white British ones, cremation is almost unheard of and the deceased is typically toasted with rum. But the main difference is the attitude towards death says Gordon.

“The whole doing of death and how you approach death and what death is, on the whole, my experience is Jamaicans and people from the Caribbean are not afraid to talk about death, it’s part and parcel of life. But my sense of the British experience is that it’s something that we want to (mimes tying a knot) tie up and put away because it’s too painful and difficult to look at, and of course, it is. But I guess my personal take on it is if you can if you can take that bit of rope off and look inside, it become less scary in a strange way.”

As well as preparing for the West end transfer, Gordon will also be taking on the role of Lorraine, played by Franc Ashman in the original run. The actress laughs when asked why she wanted to take on the part, sharing that there was some gentle persuasion. “It’s a funny thing, ‘Want to.’ My other half said ‘You’d be absolutely mad to let this opportunity pass you by, especially when you think of why you came to write it in the first place.’ So it was time to woman up.”

Although Gordon is eager for ‘Natasha the playwright to fall away’ during the run, it is her talent as a writer that has put this play onstage. Returning to her reason for writing the piece, Miro asks Gordon why she thinks there is a lack of black female writers. She becomes very animated as she answers with signature astuteness.

“There’s been this myth for years that when we tell the stories of the black experience, audiences won’t come, that it’s isolating to other cultures, which is nonsense. Theatre is about representation. When I know I’ve had a great night out at the theatre whether it’s my experience or not, I’ve learnt something about the world or about myself. This myth has clouded a culture of behaviour and thinking that stops and prevents black talent from pushing through the ceiling. It’s down to the gatekeepers, isn’t it?”

Despite theatre land still being populated and financed by largely by white productions, the 42-year-old actress says she has seen progress during her 20 years in the industry and is hopeful for what the future will bring. “I think we’re in an optimistic place. I look at the generation coming on behind me and these guys are so vocal and so energetic. There is such energy behind these guys and awareness of their self-worth and that is changing the picture.”

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