MOON ON A RAINBOW SHAWL
by Errol John.
Cottesloe Theatre Upper Ground SE1 9PX To 9 June 2012.
Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 8 June.
The history of Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl offers a sad if not shocking reflection on the fate of Black artists in 1950s London. Winner of The Observer first new play award in 1957, HM Tennent failed to give it a proper London production; thenl George Devine presented it at the Royal Court in December 1958.
It had to wait nearly thirty years for another far-sighted producer, Philip Hedley, to retrieve it from obscurity at Stratford East in 1986. Maya Angelou revived it in 1988 at the Almeida and now finally John achieves rightful recognition with Michael Buffong’s superb Cottesloe production.
It’s taken a long time but is well worth the wait. John writes with intimacy, humour and the poetry of yearning. Like Lynn Nottage’s Ruined at the Almeida two years ago, Buffong’s cast also give the sense of being at one with the writing, the atmosphere and the world they inhabit, post-war Trinidad.
Based largely on the author’s experience growing up in the former colonial island and leaving in 1950 to seek a better life, it’s also a tale, often since repeated, of mothers struggling (as in Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep, or Brecht’s Mother Courage) in grinding poverty to keep families together, infused here with the Caribbean’s particular cultural energy and colour.
Esther is a bright young girl, daughter of Sophia and Charlie Adams, who may or may not get to the school her scholarship has won for her, depending whether her parents can afford the uniform.
In the shared backyard we witness Sophia taking in laundry whilst across the way, the feisty Mavis takes in `customers’. John show women forced into bargaining with life, while, as with the plays of August Wilson, even apparently feckless males are streaked with compassion for their broken dreams.
We’ve come a long way since 1950 but it will be a long time before the brutality of Danny Sapani’s Ephraim rejecting his pregnant girlfriend Rosa for a better future abroad, or Sophia’s scream of despair as she realises the choice Rosa has made from his rejection leaves my memory.
Ephraim: Danny Sapani.
Ketch/Taxi Driver: Trevor Michael Georges.
Esther: Tahirah Sharif.
Mavis: Jenny Jules.
Sailor/Soldier: Joshua McCord.
Sophia Adams: Martina Laird.
Old Mack: Burt Caesar.
Rosa: Jade Anouka.
Policeman/Mr Murray/Man: Lloyd Thomas.
Prince: Ray Emmet Brown.
Charlie Adams: Jude Akuwudike.
Janette: Ayesha Antoine.
Fisherwoman: Deeivya Meir.
Boy: Kerron Darby.
Director: Michael Buffong
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Steven Brown.
Music: Felix Cross.
Music Director: Pepe Frances.
Movement: Steve Kirkham.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
This production of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl opened at the Cottesloe Theatre, London, 14 March 2012.