Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John
Reviewed by Lee Farley
With this touring production, the National Theatre presents a welcome opportunity for theatre-lovers in the provinces to enjoy an excellent performance of a neglected late-50s drama. Nicholas Hytner?s National Theatre has a well-earned reputation for reviving forgotten classics; last summer I saw their unforgettable production of James Baldwin?s “The Amen Corner”, written only a few year after “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” and similarly unfamiliar to most audiences. Whilst not quite hitting the emotional heights of that play, Michael Buffong?s striking production of Errol John?s naturalistic slice of post-war Trinidad life gives us more than enough to contemplate.
This is a thoughtful, well-structured drama which focuses on the personal and subtly hints at the political. Errol John?s play won a competition run by Kenneth Tynan in 1958 but has only had a couple of revivals since, and none for 30 years. It reminds me of Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams – using the heated turbulence of complex, credible characters as a metaphor for the wider social situation. Trinidad?s post-war colonial neglect is neatly woven into the relationships established in this overlooked part of town. Ephrahim is driven to abandon his commitments, Charlie pines for a thwarted dream, Esther is distracted from her environment in the search for excitement. These characters are trapped and turn to a variety of tactics to break free.
Soutra Gilmour?s design is practical, realistic and revealing; Steve Brown?s music evocative and irresistible. The production is consistently engaging. I understand why the constraints of touring may have denied us the live music from the Cottesloe, but perhaps more of Trevor Michael Georges? poignant guitar could have filled the gap?
All the cast do an admirable job of ensuring the story is compelling and convincing; their comic panache and dramatic intelligence vividly combine to establish the exotic landscape of 1950s Trinidad. I particularly enjoyed Martina Laird?s Sophia – a remarkably dignified, affecting performance.
“Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” is a touching, perceptive, absorbing encounter with relationships and politics in post-war Trinidad and runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday.