Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

Malvern Theatres

***

FIRST staged at The Royal Court in London, Errol John’s most popular play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, is set in the playwright’s native Trinidad.

The piece won the 1957 Observer New Play Competition, and in 1958 John, who was also a successful actor and screenwriter, was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.

John was one of several literary figures to move from the Carribean to London in the 50s, and Moon on a Rainbow Shawl grabbed the attention of the British literary scene as it broke with tradition with its dialogue being written not in standard English, but in Creole. John made a huge contribution to television, radio, film and theatre around the world which posthumously earned him the Trinidad and Tobago Chaconia Medal (Silver) for Drama.

While some works by John look at issues around discrimination against Carribean people coming to post-war Britain, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is set in John’s home city of Port of Spain. It is often described as depicting one man’s struggle to leave the slums and a world of petty crime and poverty but this man’s story is only a part of the tangle of tales that unfold in the heat of a brightly coloured Trinidad yard.

BRASH NEIGHBOUR

Ephraim (played by Okezie Morrow – Gulliver’s Travels, Antisocial Behaviour) is involved with Rosa (Alisha Bailey) who lives next door to the unreliable Charlie (Jude Akuwudike – Law & Order, Moses Jones) who is married to Sophia (Martina Laird – best known as Casualty’s Comfort Jones) who is embroiled in a permanent feud with brash neighbour Mavis (Bethan Mary-James)… and so it continues.

At the start of the play it appears that we may focus more on the journey of young Esther, played beautifully by Tahirah Sharif, and her dream of getting a scholarship to high school. It may be foolhardy to criticise such a lauded play, and it does seem to depict an honest picture of the lives of one community, but for me the spread of characters and their stories detracted from my involvement in their world.

I would rather have followed one or two main characters’ paths rather than being fed snippets of many, which for me meant that when moments of high drama came (for instance Sophia’s begging Ephraim not to leave for the promised land of Liverpool) I found I was very detached from the emotion being portrayed. Indeed I felt so little drawn in by Ephraim’s character that I really didn’t care whether he stayed or left.

Apart from Esther, my favourite character was Mavis, with her strutting attitude and yankee callers. Not that she was particularly amiable, more that she provided sharp tongued humour in what was otherwise a rather depressing play. There were touching moments in this, and much social and political comment made through observation and the dire situation of the characters.

Racial discrimination, exile and social problems are indeed common themes throughout John’s work. For me though, I want theatre to move me, to make me laugh or cry, to teach me something or make me see the world in a different way. I want to be entertained or shocked or delighted, but this play, for me, achieved none of these.

The set was pretty and wonderfully lit, and Talawa Theatre Company (directed by Michael Buffong) are unarguably a marvellously talented bunch, but I’m afraid I found this play miserable and most of its characters without hope. I realise that this is what John was wanting to portray and he achieved that well, it just does not make for a fun or inspiring night out.

At Malvern Theatres until 01-03-14. The play then moves on to Watford, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Colchester.

Amy Rainbow  

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