Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John, National Theatre

Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012 8:26 | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl_Martina Laird [Sophia Adams], Jude Akuwudike [Charlie Adams] image Jonathan Keenan Moon on a Rainbow Shawl_Martina Laird [Sophia Adams], Jude Akuwudike [Charlie Adams] image Jonathan Keenan

In a bustling tenement yard in Trinidad’s Port of Spain people live their lives cheek by jowl in the tropical heat. Two years after the Second World War the city is brimming with American soldiers flush with cash that benefits only those with a mind to take advantage of it. Mrs Adams shells peas on her porch and watches as her neighbours build their stores of dreams ever higher. Young Rosa plans a life with her beloved Ephraim, not knowing he has plans of his own in which she does not feature. Twelve year old Esther has won a scholarship to high school; her ticket to a gleaming future if only the money can be found for school supplies. Mrs Adam’s husband Charlie drowns his sorrows and talks of his cricketing glory days with the American officers, leaving his wife at home to worry about the rent. But with so many dreamers reaching for the skies, what disappointments are in store for those with their feet firmly on the ground?

Errol John’s tale paints a vivid picture of a land ravaged by imperialism, the domestic setting of the tenement yard lucidly representing the widespread ennui in post war Trinidad. The only opportunities lie in courting the foreign troops or in escaping to a new life overseas. The frustration and thwarted ambition is palpable in Danny Sapani’s portrayal of Ephraim, despite the adoration lavished upon him by wide eyed Rosa he is incapable of viewing her as anything more than a trap. We see huge character development in Jade Anouka’s Rosa, her beginning as a naive and vivacious young woman starkly contrasted with the dismissive individual who accepts Port of Spain’s grim reality.

The writing is dense and has many layers. Simple anecdotes about cricket matches reveal the entire political climate of the country. Despite the apparent bleakness of the situation the play is lively, teaming with calypso rhythm and comic banter alongside heartfelt revelations. In particular over dramatic Mavis, played with upbeat playfulness by Jenny Jules, demonstrates how best to exploit the opportunities provided by the Yankee soldiers, although it requires the selling of her body. Watching her face off with teeth kissing Mrs Adams as she proudly displays herengagement ring is both hysterical and tragic.

Martina Laird is the core of the play, all seeing and all knowing, she battles on in the face of adversity and clings to her own simple dream of a new house. Providing a listening ear to all, the weight of the entire country rests upon the shoulders of this one woman in a housedress and oversized shoes. Her faith that Trinidad will open up for young people and that her children will have the chances she never did is continually tested and as an audience we pray it will be strong enough to see her though to the end.

A deeply moving production, powerful and utterly engrossing. An absolute must see.

Related links

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is at the National Theatre until June 9, 2012
Afridiziak Theatre News interview with Jenny Jules, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

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