After a much celebrated run at the National Theatre in 2012 Moon on a Rainbow Shawl now comes to Oxford Playhouse, on the latest stop of the Talawa Theatre Company’s nationwide tour.
Though written by Errol John in 1958 and set in early post-war Trinidad, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl does not show its 56 years, being a remarkably modern-feeling play about the struggle for freedom in a world of limited opportunities, and how life can have a way of thwarting best laid plans.
All the action takes place in a shared backyard of the dilapidated properties owned by Old Mack, a wealthy but miserly landlord. In this space we meet Ephraim, played by Okezie Morro, an ambitious young man who dreams of escaping to England in spite of the ties of his girlfriend Rosa. We also meet the beating heart of the play Sophia Adams, magnificently embodied by Martina Laird who is reprising the role for which she was nominated for Best Actress at the Evening Standard Awards. Sophia is physically and emotionally exhausted by trying to keep her family together: Esther, the bright daughter full of hope, who has a scholarship to high school, and Charlie, the feckless husband who resorts to petty theft to try and pay for his beloved daughter’s school uniform, potentially ruining all their lives.
So far, so incredibly serious. But this is actually a play with a great sense of humour, with the difficult issues being made easier to bear thanks to the frequent laughs to be had, particularly in the interactions between Sophia, her prostitute neighbour Mavis (Bethan Mary-James, who is clearly having a great time playing the loud-mouthed lady of the night), and Mavis’s teeth-sucking boyfriend Prince.
The eponymous rainbow shawl belongs to Sophia’s daughter Esther, one of the few beacons of hope in this full-of-life, but empty-of-opportunity, environment. Esther is supposed to sew the shawl to a set pattern in order to make some money, but she chooses to create something more difficult, and more beautiful. Charlie sees the potential for something more in his daughter, saying:
Esther – if yer have yer head screw on right – No matter where yer go – One night – some time – Yer reach up – yer touch that moon.
A play about Trinidad 60 years ago, but also a play for today’s difficult economic times, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is a highly entertaining story about the serious task of reaching for the moon, when the earth keeps dragging you back down. ★★★★☆ Deborah Sims