Like every year, I was asked to review a series of plays which are part of the annual ‘Season of Bangla Drama’ last Christmas 2013). This is a fringe theatre festival I really love and support every year because it brings together new and old writers and actors and celebrates the poignancy of remembering or finding out about our world, emotions and situations today through the stage.
- Red Mane Productions presents A new play by Ayndrilla Singharay
- Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Shasti
- Directed by Lucy Allan
- Cast: Avita Jay, Rez Kabir, Nadia Nadif and Niall Ray
That Monday night in chilli November, I went back in time the moment the moment I entered the very beautiful, historic and recently restored Wilton’s Music Hall nestled in a cobbled street in East London. I came to watch ‘Unsung’, a new play by Ayndrilla Singharay.
It said in the flyer we were given that ‘Unsung is a modern re-imagining of ‘Punishment’, a short story by Bengali Nobel Prize-winning writer Rabindranath Tagore. It explores how damaging our expectations of one another can be and suggests that Tagore’s observations about the treatment of women one hundred years ago in India remains just as important and relevant in 21st century London’.
The bit they forgot to add, was that it would also be one of the most profound and moving pieces of theatre I have seen in years. Words such as “Profound, well executed, and powerful.” dotted all the literature I had read about this play. An impressive introduction.
Set in modern day London, Unsung is a re-imagining of Punishment, one of Rabindranath Tagore’s most haunting short stories and is a reminder of just how far we will go to protect those we love.
A warm home housed two brothers Asha and Rana and their wives Joy and Megh. Ash and Joy are happy and spirited newlyweds, Rana and Megh are struggling to tolerate one another despite a deep rooted love of some form connecting them. There childless marriage was slowly begining to seep into their sense of stability and erode what is frequently asserted as a once upon a time happy marriage. When a seemingly innocent meeting with one of their husbands friendly colleague (David) leads to devastating consequences, there are painful sacrifices to be made by all.
The play was effortlessly executed. Its not often that I find myself struggling to find what was not right or didn’t work… but it truly left me wanting to go through it one more time to ensure I hadn’t missed a detail. The last time I saw a story so intimate, domesticated and hauntingly engrossing brought to the stage was a very long time ago.
The stage was simple, with bookshelves, a table and a few chairs. Bookes and flowers and vases filled the shelves and two portraits hung on the non existent back wall of the theatre. The movement of props and cast was fluid. The dialogue strong, powerful, clear, often funny and inquisitive or soft and loving. The audience within the first few minutes of the play relaxed, it was in the air, we all went through these conversations, these moments of domestic and familial pleasures and pains… We were there, in that house.
The organic link between each scene, where details of the stage were subtly changed, from flowers in vases replaced or chairs changed or cutlery replaced echoed the day to day domestic intricacies of four adults co-existing. The choice of both classical Bangla music and pop pieces like ‘Jimmy’ by MIA were anything but offbeat. They were perfectly in harmony with the current placing and context of the piece, as well as a great way to weave both brothers stories. Megh, ‘the village girl who was not asked to marry but simply bundled onto a plane with her husband’, and the energetic bubbly and confident Joy who doted Megh who was a confidant and elder sister figure in her life. This also translated to both brothers, the insecure overly observant and restless deeply unhappy eldest brother Rana, who inability to give Megh children consumed his being… a sharp contrast to the very besotted and positive Ash. But both brothers shared a growing insecurity in themselves, a doubt that slowly eat away at their opinion of their wives and their roles as women in the family unit.
I could praise every minute of the play and list in detail the nuances that were so beautifully and powerfully brought to us, but I’d rather you try and catch this play in a theatre in the UK as soon as possible.
My experience delivering art therapy classes with many young girls in London across South Asian Women Refuges and Projects, work with RestlessBeings Central Asian women’s rights issues and human rights in general, had exposed me to many stories that were touched upon in so many ways whilst watching this play.
Unsung was poignant, relevant in our nowness, and a play that deserves every word of praise it has received. The audience of 150 in my opinion was short of a few thousand that I think should have been watching this. It is very easy to dismiss the work of so many new writers and directors in theatre today, but this play, and the effortless execution by its seriously talented cast was commendable, it needs to be seen in cities across the country.
© 2014 Shroomantices ~ Rahima Begum