Talawa Theatre Company in association with the National Theatre brings Moon on a Rainbow Shawl to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Faithfully adapted from Errol John’s award-winning play, we follow Ephraim as he decides to move away from the trappings of Trinidad – and parenthood – for a new life in the United Kingdom.
Written in the late 1950s the play shows its age in terms of pace. The opening act exhausts stage time setting up characters and situations, establishing Ephraim and Sophia whilst Trinidad is represented as a courtyard area buzzing to the sound of crickets blazed in a midday son. It’s evocative theatre, with naturalistically witty dialogue creating an immersive theatrical environment, but despite the actors’ efforts the first hour sags under a few too many pages of script. The dialogue, however, has an authentic quality requiring a dedicated ear; some plot points are revealed in throwaway moments so it’s a show which demands concentration. The action picks up in the second act after Errol John fully engages his dramatic arsenal; Ephraim is planning to emigrate but there is a strong possibility a child will be born to him by his orphaned neighbour. Will he stay? The struggle begins and the play takes flight.
A passionate cast provide a vivid reality; Okezie Morro has a burning intensity as Ephraim with flavours of a 1950s James Dean, whilst Martin Laird’s Sophia is an outstanding study of patience, exhaustion and desperation. Laird’s gait becomes progressively tortured and her feet drag in the closing scenes of the show, showing the burden of her character’s fight for preservation. The conflict between Morro and Laird at the show’s denouement is powerfully played, providing a thundering final note to the piece. Bethan Mary-James provides much comic relief as Mavis the ubiquitous prostitute, demonstrating how some characters in the play are wholly modern and timeless.
Michael Buffong’s direction is simple and effective, blocking movements with a dance-like fluidity whilst extending the community of Trinidad beyond the cyclorama. The yard setting provides a strong sense of enclosure and independency, counterpointing the tantalizing glimpse of Ephraim’s escape route – an off-stage taxi pulling up – through effective side lighting and sound effects. Sadly the obvious absence of a tangible moon in the piece, or a subtle moonlight effect, makes the play’s literal subject feel somewhat under-represented.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl concludes aggressively and abruptly with loose ends flapping in a wind of change. Naturalistic and occasionally experimental with flashes of modernism, the story stirs up questions instead of comfortably resolving conclusions. Ultimatly a play about sex, responsibility and heritage, the themes remain univerially relative to contemporary concerns of social mobility and independent growth. A well produced if not archaic piece of theatre, its message remains relevant and engaging.