THEATRE | Unsung at Square Chapel, Halifax

Unsung Collective presents UNSUNG A new play by Lisa Holdsworth

Chalkboard, laboratory benches, pages filled with equations. Fluorescent bulbs slowly brighten. The stage is set for the UNSUNG COLLECTIVE at Halifax’s Square Chapel. LISA GRABOWSKI prepares to be educated …

It should be a simple calculation. Achievement = Recognition. The more you achieve, the more the world should know (and respect) your accomplishments. Unless you happen to be a woman. Then this calculation gets a lot more complicated.

This is the premise of Unsung, a new piece of theatre from writer Lisa Holdsworth and Unsung Collective. Born of frustration at a lack of insightful female roles in theatre, and side-lining of women in traditional narrative history, the Leeds-based feminist theatre group are determined to get these women’s stories heard.

Unsung sees Ada Lovelace, mathematical visionary, contemplating the equation. She draws data from other largely unknown female subjects: Sophia Jex-Blake, Lilian Bader and Andrea Dunbar. These women represent all walks of life – science, medicine, military and the arts – yet they are hugely underrepresented in their specialised fields.

Unsung is not just a play, it is a song. A song for the unsung. The women’s narrative is told through the verses, the stories that were lost by history. We learn of their hopes and passions. As they work through the calculation, they rally in support of one another.

This rallying is heard in the choruses which voice their frustrations, despair and insecurities as they negotiate to be heard in a male-dominated world. Timid introductions of “I’m sorry to disturb” and “You’re probably going to think I’m being daft” grow stronger with repetition, replaced by a roar as each woman gains in confidence. “It’s not too much to ask” they cry out in unison. No, it’s not. Is it?!

Every chorus is fortified by the impassioned performance of Leeds-based band Peakes; the atmospheric vocals of lead singer Molly Puckering unite intensely with the other female voices.

We feel the pain of every setback. Invisible punches throw the women to the floor, becoming harder each time they gain ground.

Then there are the silences. Oh, those silences! Punctuated perfectly throughout, we are shocked into reflection, empathetic to the women’s plight.

As Lovelace reflects in the play, “If you want to silence a woman, there are many ways”. But, as Unsung shows us, if you want a woman to be heard, you write a song. You write a song – then you sing it loud.

UNSUNG A new play by Lisa Holdsworth is tonight at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, 7.45 pm. Details here. Tour dates are below.