'Moon on a Rainbow Shawl' review or 'Grow tall in your dreams.'

'Moon on a Rainbow Shawl', Errol John
National Theatre, Cottesloe Theatre, March 14th 2012
Written for The Ham & High

Kenneth Tynan knew a thing or two about theatre and in 1957, frustrated by a lack of sharp new writing, he convinced The Observer to launch a play competition. Errol John's 'Moon on the Rainbow Shawl' received first prize but, despite the fresh force of John's play, he struggled to get it staged. It is shameful to think of such talent being overlooked and a testament to The National that, 50 years on, they've found a stage of suitable stature for this vibrant but subtle play.

'Moon' is set in 1947 in John's home country, Trinidad, and simmers with the confidence that comes from drawing on personal experiences. There is a sauntering wit to John's play, which keeps things buoyant, despite the stifling surroundings. The action unfurls in a cramped garden, overflowing with greenery, life, love and regrets. Four households are crammed around this tiny yard and the families share not only a communal tap, but every kiss, scream and brawl.

There simply aren't enough good parts for black actors and it's a rare pleasure to see the ensemble cast dig into their meaty roles. Martina Laird is mesmerising as the weary but resolute Sophia – a surrogate mother to the entire neighbourhood, who leaves ripples of respect in her wake. Jenny Jules is gloriously flamboyant as loose lass, Mavis, and Danny Sapani's Ephraim is a compelling enigma. Ephraim initially appears a good-hearted chap but his passion for England, and a new life, prompts him to act with startling cruelty towards orphaned beauty, Rosa.

Director Michael Buffong controls the tone brilliantly and his production is viscerally explosive one minute, impossibly tender the next. But it is Martina Laird's performance that will linger the longest and, when she finally sinks down in despair, it's as if the whole neighbourhood is crumbling around her.


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