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Review Round-up: Buffong revives Moon on a Rainbow Shawl for NT

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A revival of Errol John's 1953 play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl opened last week at the National's Cottesloe Theatre (14 March 2012, previews from 7 March 2012).

Set as returning troops from the Second World War fill the town with their raucous celebrations the play, directed by Michael Buffong, depicts a vibrant, cosmopolitan world that is as harsh as it is filled with colour and warmth.

The show's cast includes Jude Akuwudike, Jade Anouka, Ray Emmet Brown, Burt Caesar, Trevor Michael Georges, Jenny Jules, Martina Laird, Joshua McCord, Danny Sapani, Tahirah Sharif and Lloyd Thomas.

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl continues in rep in the NT Cottesloe until 9 June 2012.

Matt Trueman

"Errol John's 1953 play is no mere poverty porn. By methodically laying out the obstacles that prevent escape, poverty's cyclical grip, it's too kindly and empathetic for that ... In this, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl transcends both race and place ... Michael Buffong's... languid, heartfelt production ... John's play can be over-insistent and transparent, but Buffong always draws attention to its human side and perfectly achieves the atmosphere of scorched melancholy. He's helped by a terrific ensemble, all comfortable with the slow pace, hanging silences and gorgeous intimacy of Soutra Gilmour's traverse staging ... Sapani's softness ensures Ephraim never seems cruel ... Martina Laird captures all of Sofia's steely mettle with saintly patience ... Strong work from Tahirah Sharif's eager Esther and Jude Akuwudike's dead beat Charlie in this fine find of a play."

Lucy Powell
Time Out

"Errol John's bruising, brilliantly witty 1958 play. The inhabitants of five, down-at-heel rooms (lovingly rendered in Soutra Gilmour's weatherbeaten design ... Danny Sapani's magnetic performance ... It is the women who rule this space, and director Michael Buffong's stage. Jenny Jules's show-stoppingly bitchy hooker, Mavis, is engaged in an unceasing war with a foreboding matriarch, Martina Laird's frowsy, formidable cleaning lady, Sophia ... Buffong draws every ounce of comedy from John's wonderfully precise, West-Indian dialogue ... His huge-hearted production ... The play hasn't aged perfectly: its plotting creaks on occasion, there are few surprises, and some characters are not fully fledged. But the lead performances are simply firecracker fare and, as the pressure mounts and bruises blossom, this cramped, highly particular Trinidadian yard becomes a window onto deprivation everywhere."

Michael Billington

"It amply justifies revival since, in its vivid portrait of life in a Trinidadian backyard in the immediate postwar period, it explains much about Caribbean history ... I suspect John was an admirer of Tennessee Williams, since his tragicomedy is full of heat, streetcars and sexual longing ... He pins down the conflict between high-flying aspirations and harsh realities in a cosmopolitan British colony: the most touching character is Charlie's 12-year-old daughter who yearns to get to high school and recite poetry, but whose ambitions are held in check by poverty and her father's ultimate disgrace ... Even if it takes its time, Michael Buffong's admirably restrained production treats the characters as real people rather than outrageous exotics. Buffong also gets fine performances from Danny Sapani ... Jude Akuwudike as the hapless Charlie and Martina Laird as his long-suffering wife ... Two richly remarkable contributions from Jenny Jules ... Burt Caesar as the dude landlord ... Justice, you feel, has at last been done to an important postwar play."

Julie Carpenter
Daily Express

"A Caribbean classic (if a partially neglected one) the drama pulses with colourful life but is also steeped in a suffocating atmosphere...and is full of the thwarted hopes and ambitions of its poverty-stricken characters ... The traverse staging in director Michael Buffong's atmospheric revival captures the work's claustrophobia ... And yet the work – pioneering in its time and due a revival – proves less moving than I had hoped. Nevertheless, with a cast that bring their parts vibrantly to life, the production is warm-hearted and absorbing ... Danny Sapani is like a muscular coiled spring ... Martina Laird has a feisty resignation ... Tahirah Sharif exudes an enthusiastic youthfulness ... Jenny Jules is wonderfully self-flaunting as the loose neighbour they love to hate."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Michael Buffong's sensitive revival...comes across as an intriguing mix of kitchen sink drama and tragicomedy — poignant, yet dense with slang and warm humanity ... A tightly packed design by Soutra Gilmour ... Danny Sapani's Ephraim combines strength and solidity with a constant flow of unsettling opinions, managing to retain a robust dignity even when he's acting like a cad ... Martina Laird makes Sophia the aching backbone of this little community, while Jude Akuwudike brings a muffled pathos to Charlie. And in Jenny Jules's scene-stealing interpretation Mavis has a feline air of superiority ... The play itself isn't pacey, and the unfolding of events is largely predictable. But there's real interest in the tangled elationships, which reek of ambition, yearning and regret ... The production's power gradually accumulates. Although there are moments of furious confrontation, for the most part its potency is quiet. With apt music by the Ebony Steel Band and an array of vivid performances, it's a well-crafted slow burner, spiced with humour."

Libby Purves
The Times

“I was spellbound since the start, thrilled by one of the 20th century's great neglected plays ... Its warmth is universal. Michael Buffong directs and his cast — appropriately a Trinidadian rainbow from pale Creole to darkest African — displays what brilliant black British actors we now have ... Martina Laird is a lovely Sophie: witty, impatient, warm, scolding, the eternal matriarch holding it together. She brilliantly does the cruel, wrenching moment of self-doubt ... Young Tahirah Sharif gives the child Esther a luminous innocence; Danny Sapani as the emigrant powerfully conveys the battle between ambition and self-disgust, and Jenny Jules is a disgracefully funny, strutting, thrustingly tarty neighbour ... Jude Akuwudike as Charlie is most poignant of all ... The only cavil is the physical format: the yard is lovingly detailed, from the distressed, sun-cracked wooden porch to the communal tap. But Soutra Gilmour sets it between opposing banks of seats ... But it's the only flaw: lets hope this lovely production migrates to other stages. Meanwhile, just go."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"A well-balanced play and Michael Buffong here directs a strong production that had me pretty damp round the headlamps by the end ... The most obvious thing about the show is its doorstep sandwich-thick dialect. Many lines will be lost to the average English ear, particularly at the start of the evening. You still pretty much get the drift of what is being said but it is not always easy. Martina Laird is super as tired, dignified Sophia. Danny Sapani provides balance as Sophia's desperate neighbour Ephraim. Ray Emmet Brown does a comical turn as the tart's suitor. Tahirah Sharif makes a touching teenage daughter, particularly when things start to go awry. If you can fight your way past the accents, you are in for a sweet show that leaves you counting your blessings."

- Amy Sheppard


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