Review: Moon On A Rainbow Shawl, by Errol John, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, February 7
Errol John’s play is set in his native Trinidad and is a slow burn that eventually bursts into a flame of vivid recognition for the human dilemma. It gives a snapshot of a time when returning World War Two troops filled the Port of Spain and although premiered in 1957 it is not dated and has instead ongoing relevance.
The characters live in a rowdy run-down slum yard presided over by landlord Old Mack (Burt Caesar) who is happy to take anyone’s money and has an unhealthy desire for the young and vulnerable Rosa (a poignant portrayal by Alisha Bailey). Rosa has set her own sights on Ephraim, a trolleybus driver desperate to escape a life of poverty and make a new start in England.
Okezie Morro’s Ephraim lives cheek by jowl with a cross section of the impoverished and disillusioned, determined that nothing will stop him leaving, even the pregnant Rosa. Strong-minded Sophia Adams (Martina Laird) has high hopes for her daughter Esther (Tahirah Sharif) but suffers a feckless husband Charlie (Jude Akuwudike), a former fast bowler whose own dreams had long-since been shattered.
Prostitute Mavis (a strong and feisty performance from Bethan James) has plans of her own and her visiting servicemen add to the cacophony of Old Mack’s yard.
The play was one of the first to use Creole, John’s native language, and until the ear was attuned, some of the early dialogue was lost. But the meaning and spirit of the action was clear enough. Thanks to the direction of Michael Buffong and a fine cast of actors we were spared clichés of both location and perceptions of class and race. Errol’s mix of despair and comedy was brought off beautifully and can be considered a triumph for the National Theatre and the Talawa Theatre Company.