- Features Archive
- Film and Entertainment
- Moon on a Rainbow Shawl
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl
Play by Errol John
Review by Premier's Luke Penwald
Ever wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall tuning in on the grime & grit of other people's real life situations? I got a feel of that this week. It was intriguing, compelling, unsettling and - at times -very uncomfortable. It was also one of the best theatre experiences I've had in ages.
The National Theatre's production of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John is currently playing at the Cottesloe Theatre on London's South Bank. Written in 1953 and set in Trinidad as troops from the island recruited into WW2 in Europe returned home. Native islander, Errol John, sets his drama amid the 'backyards' of Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain. The 'yards' are small communal areas where the city's poor live cheek-by-jowl with families and individuals living almost on top of one another in one room 'homes'. It's a place where everyone knows everyone's business amid the stifling tropical heat.
The story centres around some thrown together in one of these 'yards'. Ephraim, a bachelor of the strong silent type desperately seeking to escape his life...and guilt...for a new start in England. Sophia, a wife and mother trying to keep her family together and the unintended 'matriarch' of the 'yard'. Rosa, Ephraim's love interest living in her own space with her own secrets and finally Mavis, a lady of the night with no secrets using her quarters 'working for the Yankee dollar' with the 'help' of US servicemen stationed there. The loose Mavis and devout Sophia are set to clash horns. But this is not just a set to watch the gossip of others but to discover their laughter, sacrifices, hidden pain and dreams.
The setting and staging of the play are one half of why I came away from it moved and pensive. The Cottesloe is a small and intimate theatre and you are never far away from the action as you are in larger venues. I was close enough to have physically touched the lead actors at one point. OK, I had a front row seat but the rows back from me could have been spat on (had this been a Shakespeare). The stage is set in between the audience. There are no scene changes, no curtains, special effects or gimmicks.
So what is is it that keeps a packed audience enthralled for 2.5 hours (including interval)? A compelling script and powerful performances. I've watched the tralier of the play on the National Theatre website after I saw the show. Believe me...NOTHING close to the performance I watched this week when the actors were so close to me I could see real tears in their eyes and see them physically shake with emotion. There were at least three occassions when there was a corporate audible intake of breath among the audience at the intensity of the acting.
This is an adult play with adult themes and strong language. While the lead character of Sophia has a clear Christian faith, the play does not pretend to be about faith or aimed at the Christian community. I do think, however, that Premier's audience across the cultures should enjoy this play on a number of levels - whether from cultural appreciation or a piece of art or entertainment, social concern or history. The play transcends race and culture. It's a human story and the packed performance I attended was multi-ethnic though predominantly white. Writing as a mixed-race person myself, I found that hugely encouraging for a play with a black creator and 99% black cast.
Oh...and the title of the play? Well I've read up on a number of interpretations. The Rainbow shawl for me is the people of the island, a rainbow nation before South Africa claimed the trademark. Trinidadians hail from South America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, India and China. A diverse people of many colours with many hopes and dreams and despairs...all under the same Sun and the same Moon as day by night goes on...
For more information and ticket bookings click here.