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Friday, 13 April 2012

Reviews- theatre 23

Set on a post-war Caribbean island, this expert revival is a masterclass in what it feels like to have nothing and want everything

Written by Georgina Brown
MOON ON A RAINBOW SHAWL

georgina-brown 2805Years ago, with suspiciously uncharacteristic spontaneity and extravagance, my husband suggested a holiday on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. The attraction was not sun, sea and steel bands, I soon discovered, but cricket: a test match between England and the West Indies. We lost, of course, but my overwhelming memory of those balmy spring days was the deliciously lingering pace of the place. No one in Trinidad was in a hurry.

Michael Buffong's beautifully performed revival of the Trinidad-set Moon On A Rainbow Shawl appropriately takes its time, unravelling slowly, naturalistically. Errol John's 1953 play is essentially a kitchen-sink drama, though there's no sink, just a tap on a fence shared by the characters living in wooden shacks around a tiny yard in Port-of-Spain. Designer Soutra Gilmour's yard is neither 'stinking' nor 'blasted' as described, just meagre. Leafy plants thrive in the dirt. But if there's little sense of real squalor, there's no doubting the lack of privacy. 'There's no hidin' place down here,' as matriarch Sophia says.

She takes in washing and works all hours to try to pay for a school uniform so bright daughter Ester can take up her scholarship place, but what she makes is squandered by her husband Charlie, once a promising cricketer ('He was spit and polish when I met him') but now a work-shy drunk. Everyone knows her business, but she also knows theirs and is quick to tell them what she thinks. Which is very little when it comes to Mavis (a slinky, imperious Jenny Jules), who entertains a different sailor every night, while somehow managing to keep her boyfriend, Prince, dangling.

And yet, Sophia is a second mother to orphaned Rosa who works in the cafe owned by their lecherous landlord, old Mr Mack, who is showering her with jewellery in an attempt to get her into bed. Rosa's boyfriend, Ephraim, doesn't care as much as he should because he has set his heart on escape from the monotony of his job as a trolley-bus driver and the confi nes of the yard, to start afresh in Liverpool.

John draws his vivid characters with sympathy, humour and entirely without sentimentality. Martina Laird (best remembered as Comfort in Casualty) is particularly good as care-worn, carping Sophia, at once generous and warm as well as being a nag. Danny Sapani's Ephraim is a powerful presence, too, and complicated. He can be gentle but shows a streak of ruthless cruelty when he abandons Rosa to pursue his dream. A period piece proves to be a timeless classic.

Cottesloe Theatre, London SE1 until 9 June: 020-7452 3000, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk



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