“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.” – Stand By Me
Anybody who has ever read Enid Blyton books as a kid knows of their innate appeal and memories of nostagia they evoke. However, with our ‘woke’ sensibilities nowadays, aspects of these books are questionable and don’t stand up to the glare of modern scrutiny… Written by Matthew Parvin and directed by Polina Kalinina, The Noble Nine examines the truth behind a fictitious series of children’s books.
Based on a group of nine cousins, Estelle West’s grandchildren provided the inspiration for her Noble Nine books. However, nothing lasts forever. The cousins are now grown up and Estelle is on her deathbed. With ‘the Nine’ together for the first time in years, what secrets will rise to the surface in their wake? Will things ever be the same again?
While there is an element of Peter Pan here with the tension between childhood and ‘growing up’, there is much more going on beneath the surface. Bammie (Claudia Grant) was always known as a tomboy, but the rest of the group aren’t impressed that she’s now more ‘feminine’ and wears a blouse. Meanwhile, Gregory (Dipo Ola) and Eliza (Jennifer Leong) dare to ‘go against the asexual grain’ by announcing their engagement to the others.
Winnie (Ella Bruccoleri) is the one person who hasn’t changed at all, preoccupied with having “feasts” and “capers”. As the former self-appointed leader of the group, Arthur (Ryan Dooey) is keen to relive their ‘glory days’, while the ‘psychic twins’ are represented by puppets. In contrast, Toby Vaughan plays a number of characters who are unfazed by their ‘mythology’ and sees them as they really are.
The truth about why they were able to spend so long on their childhood island home is that there was a cost ‘paid in blood’. As the secrets spill out over time, we see that far from being liberated, the Nine’s secluded existence may have been detrimental to their development in the long run.
The play also lends itself to an interpretation as a political allegory. Much like the spoof book Five On Brexit Island, the Nine’s chequered history regarding unwanted intruders and ‘Germans’ on ‘the Island’ could be said to be mindset of the Brexiteers – unable to accept that Britain has moved on from the 1950s, and unable to deliver a coherent or persuasive argument why Brexit must happen, regardless of the cost…
© Michael Davis 2019
The Noble Nine runs at Vault Festival until 3rd February.