Review by Hannah Fredriksson
Debuting in Perth for the inaugural Perth International Cabaret Festival, Unsung is a cabaret that celebrates how far feminism has come in Australia since the 60’s. Our charismatic hosts Amelia Ryan and Libby O’Donovan have cleverly curated a series of Aussie pop and rock songs of the time, woven with recounted tales of the ‘unsung’ heroines who instigated change in the face of adversity.
In the vast space of His Majesty’s Theatre, the small audience was nestled closely towards the front and centre of the stalls – a rare opportunity for an intimate performance on such a grand scale.
Entering the stage in dazzling outfits, Ryan and O’Donovan first sat down at a bar table on the stage each with a beer in hand. On it’s own this image wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy but later it would reveal to be a visual measure of how far our society has come, as they talk about the time in Australia’s history when Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner protested at the Regatta Hotel in Queensland because women were excluded from being served in public bars – a law that would not be overturned until 1970, five years later.
The ease in which the women command the stage is joyous to behold. Supported by a live 5-piece band, the set list includes songs by Little Patti, Judy Stone, Marcie Jones, Dinah Lee, Lynne Randell, Margret Roadknight and many others. Though the set list is mainly comprised of songs performed by women, they do include a medley of songs written by men, strategically and comedically highlighting a concerning theme that is common between them.
Despite the weight of the subject matter, the show as a whole is an absolute blast. Both women sing with impeccable presence and passion, belting out ballads and even throwing in a little bit of choreography, all the while taking the audience along on the journey with charming flair and wit.
The highlights were powerful renditions of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ and ‘I Am Woman’, the latter closing out the show and rightfully earning a standing ovation from the audience. The reason this show works so well in a larger venue is because the height of the stage seems like it can barely contain their larger-than-life voices.
For myself as a child of the 90s, Unsung is a glimpse into a musical history that I had completely missed. Despite not being familiar with all the music, the energy and passion of the performance was undeniable and I found myself really enjoying the entire repertoire, especially when presented alongside the context of the world when these songs were made.
Unsung is a reminder of how far we’ve come as a society and a rallying cry for how far we still have to go. What better way to spend a winter’s eve than in an important and intimate cabaret in one of Perth’s most iconic venues. An excellent contribution to Perth International Cabaret Festival from Amelia Ryan and Libby O’Donovan – hopefully this won’t be the last we see of this dynamic duo from Adelaide!