The year is 1947; the location, Port of Spain, Trinidad. Against the backdrop of post-war poverty and deprivation, plus an influx of American soldiers flashing their Yankee dollars, a group of residents in one of the city’s tenement yards struggles to eke out an existence.
The trials and triumphs of this group are the focus of the classic Caribbean play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. Written in 1953 by the late Trinidadian playwright Errol John, the play, regarded as John’s seminal work, is now enjoying a major revival at the Cottesloe Theatre, part of the National Theatre, London.
The play won an Observer drama award in 1957, ajudged by a now extraordinary-seeming panel consisting of Peter Hall, Michael Barry, Peter Ustinov, Alec Guinness and Kenneth Tynan. Subsequently, West End producers declared it uncommercial and demanded a re-write, but happily it’s the original version which has been revived today.
When this play first illuminated our shores in the mid 1980s, it saw many from the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad, flocking to East London to sample a slice of Trini life. Many who saw it in 1986 could not get enough, and returned two years later in 1988 to relive the goings on ‘in the yard’. It was an opportunity to be transported back to post-war Trinidad, become part of the characters' lives and, above all, be enveloped in the warmth of the Caribbean and get away from ‘England cold’, albeit it for only two hours.
Michael Buffong directs this production, which features a cast of accomplished black actors. Among them are Danny Sapani, who plays protagonist Ephraim, and Martina Laird (Sophia), whose portrayal of ‘Comfort’ in the BBC1 hospital drama Casualty brought her national acclaim.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl runs until 9 June, with ticket prices from £12. For further information, go to www.nationaltheatre.org.uk .