Moon on a Rainbow Shawl presents a troubled Trinidad in the years before independence. A post war era when hope and prosperity seemed as far off as the moon of the play.
Action revolves around six characters and their lives in the yard, the latter presented in exquisite detail by Olivier award winning designer Soutra Gilmour. There are rusty bins, specific tiny enamel pots which saltfish is peeled into and a real yard tap and gas stove. All this detail – we swear it even felt humid – contributes to the rawness of acting and direction. Short of time travelling, you’re never going to find a better face to face experience with Trinidad in 1947.
Reality is also important because it’s the main villain of the play in the guise of poverty which threatens to ruin the six lives. Carefree schoolgirl Esther has won a scholarship, but her future is threatened by father Charlie who squanders precious money on booze. Then Rosa, the lithe limbed and sweet natured young girl is in love with Ephraim, but he’s ashamed of his poor life as trolley driver and wants to leave her to seek his fortune in England. We watch closely, like neighbours of the yard ourselves –- some audience peer over the set walls like nosy neighbours –- as these individual dramas unfold.
Humour and the light hearted touch of the Caribbean is never far away though. Mavis (Jenny Jules), the yard hoe, stalks and sashays, luring men back like rats trapped in her lipstick jaws. Sophia (Martina Laird) is utterly convincing and funny as no nonsense ruler of the roost. Prince, with his gold tooth and terrible suits, is puffed up with pride at marrying Mavis and totally under her thumb. There’s also poetry and delight in every Trinidadian turn of phrase and expression – this accent has to be one of the world’s most lovely.
Bittersweet and absorbing, this yard and its tragically fated characters leave their indelible mark in your head way after leaving the Cottesloe. Surely the sign of a good night out at the theatre.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is at the Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre until 9 June. Tickets from £5 (for 16-25 year olds)