Synchronised to the pace of a calypso beat, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl follows the lives of a poverty-stricken family living in the bustling yards of Trinidad, after the war. Considering such a premise, what I did not expect was the cripplingly humorous moments, the innovative, and at times the sheer power of the performances that were created.
We follow Sophie Adam’s daily struggles of working low paid jobs, keeping up her house, arguing with the prostitute Mavis who lives nearby, taking care of her daughter Esther and her little boy, and moralising her husband. Alongside this her neighbour Ephraim, who is having a secret relationship with the attractive Rosa, has a burning passion to leave Trinidad, and have a better life in England. Without spoiling much more of the play, this re-staging of one of Errol John’s most famous plays still remains fresh and relevant today.
With its unique brand of Creolian banter, and tongue in cheek humour the play is greatly entertaining. The most memorable of these moments are definitely between Mrs Adams and the prostitute Mavis, who are always at ends with each other. With Mavis’ distinctly high screechy voice, and elaborate gestures her role as the comical marker was key to the overall atmosphere of the performance.
But with this great humour, there is the despair. It is a powerful study of the effects of poverty on men and women, the effects of money, and more so the lack of it. And with Ephraim’s wishes, we are all reminded of, to use the well known phrase, the ‘American Dream’. Quite appropriately Ephraim’s desires to go to England for a better life for himself, are still relevant 56 years later when they were conceived. One just has to pick up a newspaper, or overhear debates to catch a glimpse of the attitudes towards immigration in England at the moment. Yet still England remains the place where, somehow and in some way, dreams for young men and women will come true.
With the mesmerising performances from the cast due to the stellar material they have, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is compelling, and well worth 3/4 hours of your time. And it leaves us with a greater message, something which the play exemplifies: only in poverty can one find humour in despair.
By Shantok Jetha