PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This review is of the final preview performance.
The central stories are Ephraim's plans to leave in a couple of days' time, as well as the latest hot gossip about a break-in at the café where Rosa works - is someone in the neighbourhood responsible? But John is also interested in building up a general picture of what is apparently the most multicultural part of the West Indies (the play was partly written as a vehicle for under-employed black actors) so we see a whole selection of memorable characters. Like the dirty old man of a landlord (Burt Caesar,) building himself a three-storey folly in full view of his tenants' one-bedroom shacks (all three households share a single tap in the yard) and creeping on the naïve Rosa. Or Mavis' spivvy boyfriend (Ray Emmet Brown,) biting off more than he can chew when he proposes. It makes for a very rounded image of the community and helps give life to the central storyline; while the sense of location is helped by Felix Cross' music, played by a live steel band.
Michael Buffong's production maintains a fairly gentle pace but not in a way that drags, rather allowing the drama of the situation to tell itself. The cast is uniformly strong, Laird is quietly heartbreaking as her hopes for her family's future seem threatened, Akuwudike similarly bringing a quiet pathos to her husband, with the crushed dreams of a cricket career in his past. Proof that you can sometimes do things too well, without giving away who it is there's a scene of domestic abuse where the actors' stunt work is so impressive it rather takes away from the intended effect (the fights, choreographed by Bret Yount, are excellent all round.) I was also a bit vague on why Rosa was living with Sophia's family. But generally there's little to fault in the sometimes-hopeful, sometimes-dark story of a very distinctive community.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John is booking in repertory until the 9th of June at the National Theatre's Cottesloe.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.