Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

Errol John
Eclipse Theatre at Nottingham Playhouse
(2003)

Three years ago a group of black practitioners and administrators met to discuss ways of developing the profile of national and regional black theatre. They recognised that there were very few companies producing black work for middle-scale touring venues outside London.

Out of those talks came a proposal for a touring company that would perform in three regional theatres - Nottingham Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic and the New Wolsey, Ipswich - before taking plays around the country.

Twelve months later Eclipse Theatre was born. Its first production is Errol John's classic Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, which won the Observer new play competition in 1957.

Set on a tropical island in the Caribbean in the late 1940s, Moon shows us how people deal with relationship problems, struggles against poverty and a willingness to better themselves, themes which are the same no matter what colour you are.

Ellen Cairns' marvellously effective set immediately transports you to a yard in a shanty town, the houses with their corrugated roofs looking as though a gust of wind would blow them over. But there's not even a hint of a breeze as the inhabitants swelter under the huge, yellow, Caribbean moon.

Errol John's script seems ever so slightly out of date 40-odd years on - the young men long to escape the poverty trap and move to Liverpool of all places - but otherwise it is crisp, poignant and witty. The audience on press night found it unusually funny, so much so that on a couple of occasions tense scenes were ruined by laughter from the stalls.

Paulette Randall's production sparkles, with several outstanding performances. Holding the whole thing together is Dystin Johnson as Sophia, the cuddly, jovial, ever-loving mother who retains her optimism despite all the hardships she has to suffer.

Victor Romero Evans is a downtrodden Ephraim, the trolley bus driver who shows anger and jealousy as he refuses to accept his lot. "We're all after the Yankee dollar," he wails before storming out with a heartfelt: "No one can trap me in this blasted place!"

Ram John Holder, better known as Porkpie in the TV series Desmond's, is comfortable as the lecherous Old Mack while 17-year-old Davinia Anderson in her professional theatrical debut is totally credible as the schoolgirl who longs to disobey her parents and do her own thing.

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was the first play to be written in Creole instead of standard, white English. Words were lost occasionally but overall it is a slick, enjoyable production which should help Eclipse Theatre enormously in its aims of raising the profile of black theatre and encouraging youngsters, especially young black people, to see their productions.

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl runs until 22nd February before touring.

Reviewer: Steve Orme