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Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, National Theatre

Errol John
Directed by Michael Buffong

Pros: Strong performances, great script, funny and moving.
Cons: The Cottesloe is an amazing space where designers can run wild… perhaps more could have been made of this.
Our Verdict: A great night of quality theatre.
Courtesy of Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
If there is one thing I hate, it’s a badly behaved audience member. For those who have had the pleasure of never encountering such beasts, let me give you a brief overview. The badly behaved audience member comes in several species. First, there is the inoffensive kind: the person with an annoying laugh, or the one eating a sandwich during the show. Next there is the standard, irritating kind, you know, the one who forgets to turn off their phone during the show. Incredibly irresponsible, but ultimately, their sin is accidental. Last night, for the first time, I came across the most vicious, gruesome badly behaved audience member: the one who loudly talks during the show, who gets involved with jokes and quips, and who laughs out loud in the most intense and heart-wrenching scenes. Never before in my life have I witnessed a full auditorium directing such scorn towards a single person. And even despite the blinding theatre rage I felt during most of the show, I still enjoyed Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. And that’s quite a feat.
Criminally rude spectators aside, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl has everything going for it. In true National Theatre style, it excels in every category. The plot revolves around a neighbourhood in Trinidad in the 1940-50s, where each of the inhabitants, in their own way, are trying to lift themselves out of difficult living conditions. The show deals with how they do so, and the sacrifices they have to make along the way. Esther, the talented young schoolgirl whose parents are struggling to afford a high-school uniform for; Ephraim, the honest worker whose only desire is to sail to England; Charlie, the unemployed ex-cricketer who was dropped from his team on the cusp of success for asking to be treated with decency. These form just a few of the fascinating, colourful, but ultimately tragic characters in the play.
Delivering these deep and complex roles is no easy task, but the cast have an outstanding grasp on their roles. Performances are strong all around. Particular mentions to Danny Sapani as Ephraim and Martina Laird as Sophia, the main protagonists, for their performances which are funny at times, and deeply moving, even heart-wrenching at others. Another great performance is given by Burt Caesar as Mr Mac, the rich old crooner with an infatuation for one of the younger tenants. Every single cast member has something to add to this show. Hats off to them all, especially for continuing to deliver a great show despite the outrageous behaviour of the aforementioned audience member.
The set is simple, depicting the courtyard and entrances to the four rooms where the characters live. The play is staged in the round – which is pretty much the simplest I have seen for a while in the Cottesloe – but it still feels special, and is elegantly designed and lit. No big feats of technical wizardry in this production: the focus is very much on the strong and streamlined performances.
The long and the short of it is this: Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is a strong script, excellently performed and expertly designed and lit. The play is funny, moving and cleverly layered, and the setting – Trinidad in the 1940s – makes for a refreshing change of scenery. Director Michael Buffong can be proud of the special little atmosphere he has created in the Cottesloe. So long as you have the fortune not to be sitting anywhere near a obnoxious spectator of the worst kind, you will have a whale of a time watching this fascinating production.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl runs at the National Theatre until 9th June 2012.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/68377/productions/moon-on-a-rainbow-shawl.html

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