The Trinidadian actor, playwright and director, Errol John made crucial contribution to the breakthrough of Black and Caribbean voices in British literature during the twentieth century. Part of the Windrush generation, John’s renowned play, ’Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’ (1958) was one of the first dramatic works to document the experience of Black Caribbean migration. Alongside this, the play was one of the of the first by a Black Caribbean writer to be staged in Britain, particularly one that showcased a largely Black cast speaking in Caribbean dialect.
As a young man in Trinidad, John created opportunities in order to act and write, co-founding the Whitehall Players theatre group. When moving to post-war England in 1951, although acting in a number of notable productions – including playing Shakespeare’s Othello at the Old Vic – it was John’s frustration with the number of roles available for Black actors in England that led him to write more frequently.
After being rejected by the Apollo Theatre under the pretext that the play was unsuitable for a ‘typical’ West End audience, ’Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’, premiered at The Royal Court Theatre in 1958. The play’s success led John to win the Observer Award for the Best New Playwright. The play has since been directed and staged multiple times; by John himself at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1986, by Maya Angelou at the Almeida Theatre in 1988 and most recently by Michael Buffong for the National Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company in 2012 and 2014. Others of John’s plays include, ‘The Tout’ (1966), ‘Force Majeure’ (1967) and ‘The Dispossessed’ (1967).