Unsung

Wed 30th July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Xavier Greenwood

at 20:26 on 2nd Aug 2014

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A contemporary re-imagining of Rabindranath Tagore’s seminal short story Punishment, Unsung acts as a profound and mature evocation of the devastating effects which patriarchy – in the form of gender-based violence – can have on human relationships.

An intensely powerful story with glimpses of haunting brilliance, more consistently polished and engaging acting will give the show the potential to progress from very good to excellent over the course of its run at the Fringe. It is said early on in the performance that “marriage is like a brick wall, strong at first and then worn away by the rain and the wind”. The brick walls of the two marriages depicted within the play are not so much worn away as smashed to pieces in an instant.

Ash (Niall Ray) and Rana (Amit Dhut) are two brothers who live with their wives Joy (Rajneet Sidhu) and Megh (Bhawna Bhawsar) in a single house. Claustrophobia is tellingly evoked by a tiny stage, whose central table is flanked by shelves contained by pictures of family members past and present bearing down on the ensuing destruction.

From the very opening of the play Ash displays insecurity over his wife and her seemingly innocent meetings with the enigmatic David by minute facial movements and down-turned glances. This establishes a tension only exacerbated by palpable silences and lines pregnant with tragic irony. Ash’s performance is subtle in its vulnerability, reflected in his increasingly erratic behaviour.

Rana (Amit Dhut) is domineering and unshakeable as the elder brother, convincingly irascible and appropriately detestable in equal measure.The content of his final argument with Megh hints at the skull beneath the skin which has endowed him with such gendered megalomania that he tells his wife: “Any time you’re not with me, you’re alone”. Joy and Megh for their part are believably portrayed as victims of their husbands’ susceptibility to honour, with Joy particularly coming into her own in the second part of the play, and Megh a lingering, cynical presence throughout.

The only issue comes in terms of credibility, as the pace of dialogue at times lost momentum due partly to what seemed to be slight emotional discrepancies. In the opening scene, Joy is more sombre than one might expect, perhaps betraying a conscious anticipation of what would later occur. Ash’s eventual turmoil just doesn't seem to express in full what he has actually experienced, since for all of his own culpability he remains to an extent devoted to his wife.

Fortunately, both issues can be easily resolved. It is clear that the effortlessly adapted Unsung, already a very good play, will improve to become something even better.

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Lili Thomas

at 03:53 on 3rd Aug 2014

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I have walked past enough signs advertising Edinburgh as "the city of both old and new" that Unsung immediately caught my eye as a show entwining tradition with contemporary life just as much as it entangles the cultures of Britain and South Asia. Black and white photos of parents sit proudly on top of the music player’s shelf, and whilst Joy’s (Rajneet Sidhu) youth radiates from a floral dress, Megh (Bhawna Bhawsar) stands proudly in her Southern Asian clothes.

A lively Asian beat opens the play with a movement motif that introduces the two brothers in suits, shuffling papers, whilst Megh busily tidies the living room and Joy skips between her tasks. Lucy Allan’s direction ensures the movement is slick, and, whilst it seems to rather brazenly stereotype the gender differences, I’m left to question whether caricatured depictions of the domestic are in fact accurate.

Ayndrilla Singharay’s narrative is inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s beautiful tale ‘Punishment’, transplanted to the UK, and follows a young British-Asian couple Ash (Niall Ray) and Joy (Rajneet Sidhu) who have moved in with Ash’s older brother Rana (Amit Dhut) and his wife Megh. The acting begins woodenly and as I warmed to the characters I found it difficult to believe Ash and Joy were newly married, handling each other rather stiffly.

The script starts slightly awkwardly, heavily stressing the character relationships and using words where perhaps silent moments would have been more effective. However, as the narrative progresses fluidly the actors relax and their constant presence on stage only enhances the bubbling domestic claustrophobia.

A faultless tech meant that the use of television and stereo sounds brought the day to day life of the characters into the audience's reality. Amit Dhut is effective in making Rana a detestable character and whilst we see one loving moment towards his wife, I felt Dhut could have fleshed out Rana’s character further by sharing his underlying insecurities with us. His views on how to ‘be a man’ and his strictures on a wife’s behaviour are rather two-dimensionally pressed, but perhaps this initial response should hold my ignorance to blame.

Bhawsar’s performance was a highlight for me, wavering between tolerance and eruptions; whilst Joy is achingly worn away and Sidhu’s performance sparkles through the darkness. Ash’s building stress is adeptly handled by Ray as the lives of the family become weighted down by the traps of intolerable pressure. Unsung is partnered with the UK charity Asha which, among much other work, helps South Asian women escape violence and the play depicts the possible escalation of mixing ignorance with love. The ending left me aware of both mine own and the world’s weaknesses, and chillingly conscious of the untold stories hidden behind closed doors.

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