Review: Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, National Theatre

“I see a change in this Trinidad”

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is a 1953 play by Trinidadian playwright Errol John which has rather fallen into neglect, due to a rough time with contemporary producers who wanted it changed. But Michael Buffong has unearthed it in its original state for the National Theatre and given the Cottesloe an intimate Caribbean-infused flavour in this rather gentle production which I found to be rather enjoyable.

We find ourselves in a run-down part of Port of Spain where a group of neighbours are introduced to us along with the travails of their lives, disrupted somewhat by the raucous  troops returning from the Second World War, as some concentrate on getting through the daily grind and others dream of escape. Two main characters exemplify these differing approaches: Martina Laird’s empathetic Sophia, a stalwart matriarch figure rooted in this homestead and whose heart beats for everyone , and Danny Sapani’s Ephraim who is determined to carve out a better life for himself in England, even as family responsibilities loom large.

Their stories are engagingly told, especially in Ephraim’s scenes with pregnant girlfriend Rosa and Laird is soul-achingly perfect throughout, but the real joy of Moon… is in the evocation of the diverse and entertaining community of the town. The crop of supporting characters are brilliantly sketched out and performed by a cracking cast: Jenny Jules’ vivacious Mavis is amazing, Ray Emmet Brown and Jude Akuwudike make a pair of feckless men, Jade Anouka doing excellent work as Rosa and Tahirah Sharif’s quiet grace as Sophia’s intelligent daughter Esther. So whilst the pace often flags as the rather predictable story plays out, the interest is still held by the interplay between this gang.

On the face of it, this kind of play wouldn’t normally appeal to me – more than one person has described it as a ‘slow-burner’ – and it took me a while to get around to watching it, but I have to say I’m really glad I did. Its power and effect may be understated but sometimes it is the tenderest touches that stay with one the longest.   

Running time: 2 hour 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 9th June

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