REVIEW: UNSUNG (King’s Head Theatre) ★★★★

Unsung is a new play from award winning screenwriter Lisa Holdsworth, performed by Unsung Collective, a group of Leeds-based theatre makers. They have worked together to tell the stories of important women in British history who deserve to be better known for their achievements. The production comes to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington as part of a tour around the country.

Unsung explores the stories of Ada Lovelace (Olivia Race), Sophia Jex-Blake (Kirsty Pennycock), Lilian Bader (Riana Duce) and Andrea Dunbar (Claire-Marie Seddon). Ada is trying to solve a problem using her mathematical skills and a chalkboard – why is it that achievement doesn’t always equal recognition when the achievements are a woman’s? She turns to her subjects to seek a solution: Sophia was one of the first seven women to study medicine at Edinburgh University in 1869, became the first practising female doctor in Scotland and went on to found two medical schools for women. Lilian was one of the first black women to join the British armed forces, becoming a Corporal in the Air Force. Andrea battled to be taken seriously as a playwright. Ada herself becomes a subject of her study, remembering her own struggle to be respected for her mathematical skills.

All four women strive to be given the same “education, job, respect, voice” that the men around them command, “is that too much to ask?” they ask in unison. We see a selection of women from different periods of history with different accents and backgrounds. These are women with fantastic achievements in their fields that have not been given the recognition of their male peers. This is more than a historical drama, Unsung shows that the struggles of these four women are still very immediate in the twenty-first century.

The production is no history lecture, the women are brought to life to tell their own stories. Throwing them together on the same stage makes for some interesting interactions. The production includes physical performance and music from Peakes, a Leeds based band with stirring vocals from Molly Puckering. This show will send you home wanting to find out more about these brilliant women and seek out others like them.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans


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