Review: The Unsung, Roundhouse

Described as a “funeral party for the forgotten fallen heroes of music” and with its expert use of music and poetry The Unsung is a stunning achievement.  Dressed in black on a stage decorated with flowers, Genevieve Carver and her band lead the audience on a journey which passes through a retirement home in Sheffield, a cruise ship in Italy and the streets of Paris to pay homage to individuals whose contributions to the creation and enjoyment of music are largely unknown.

The Unsung employs music to create a truly captivating experience using, for example, steel pan drums to recreate the carnival atmosphere for one piece and reworking Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel to highlight the plight of Lina Prokofiev in another. The music serves to enhance the poetry by creating an atmosphere specific to each piece which successfully draws the audience deeper into the world of the person being celebrated and creates a deeper connection to their story.

The poems themselves are a triumph; raw and deeply honest we hear Carver’s own ponderings about the circumstances under which the individuals died and what their death or the reactions to them say about our society. In a piece in tribute to deceased concert pianist Anne Smith titled Lady in the Car, Carver and her band question the very concept of sanity and humorously mock a society in which it is deemed acceptable for the first line of an obituary to read “never married” by listing other things Smith may never have done such as “instagrammed her dinner”.

Chaos Theory which celebrates the life of Asami Nagakiya, who was tragically murdered after performing at Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, is a damning indictment of victim blaming culture. And the synth pop infused Maybe you’ll go out tonight explores the despair of an 80s pop has-been through the lens of a date that he interrupts with his drunken musings.

The performance’s stand out piece is the ominous The Eagles of Death written in celebration of the lives of the victims of the 2015 Bataclan concert hall attack in Paris. The piece sombrely takes the audience through snapshots of the lives of some of the victims preparing for the concert, the soundcheck, and of people reacting to the news of the attack. Using the metaphor of the foreboding Eagles of Death which fly close to those nearing their death Carver muses “funny how you always remember where you were on days the world goes wrong”.

Despite The Unsung’s heavy subject matter, it is not as Carver stated “all gloomy”. At the heart of the piece is the celebration of life and music and the audience leaves with a greater appreciation for both.

The Unsung is currently touring the country until November 12.

Roberta Wiafe

Roberta Wiafe

Roberta Wiafe hails from London where she spends most of her days eating cupcakes and being a history and politics nerd.