Written by Amelia Ryan, Libby Donovan and Angela Williams. Musical Director Mark Ferguson. A Frank Ford Commission. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. June 9-10 2019
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Amelia Ryan and Libby Donovan in Unsung. Photo: Claudio Raschella|
In 1965 friends Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor walked into Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel and chained themselves in protest to the bar and waited for the police to arrive. This bold act of feminist activism opened the floodgates to a rebellion for liberation from the draconian laws that compelled women to live as second class citizens without the rights and privileges enjoyed by men.
For singer/songwriters Amelia Ryan and Libby Donovan Thornton and Bognor’s stand for women’s rights inspired a search for the unsung female musicians of the time that resulted in the inaugural Frank Ford Commission, Unsung in honour of the Cabaret Festival’s late Godfather. Ryan in a slender Sixties mini dress and Donovan in a white polka dotted blue full skirted high bodiced carryover from the Fifties launched into a nostalgic and illuminating revelation of the women who changed the music industry for ever and paved the way for the singers of the future. Using video projection of the fashions, ads and faces of the time, and singing their way through the Sixties with flair and gusto, Ryan and Donovan paid tribute to the likes of Little Pattie, Noeleen Batley, Patsy Anne Noble, Betty McQuade, Judy Stone, Lynne Randell and Carol West to name but a few. Ryan is the princess of Pop, assuming the role of narrator for much of the show while Donovan proves again what a versatile and powerhouse voice she has as she belts out the Blues and the gutsy sounds of Rock ‘n Roll. Ryan and Donovan are perfect foils as they take the audience on a fabulous ride through the era that changed the world and the women whose songs sang in triumph to make the change happen.
As a male who lived through those years I sit in amazement at the sight of the Ford Pills ad to make women lose weight, or the male medley’s adoration of the sweet sixteen year old. and I sense the seething swell of change in Donovan’s hard hitting rendition of Tom Jones’s It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World. But as the song says, “It wouldn’t be nothing without a woman by his side” The times they are a-changing, and Donovan invites people everywhere to “change what’s wrong and make it right” because “I am woman hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore.” Unsung is a cabaret show too powerful to ignore. As Ryan says at the close of the show, “We have come a long way” but the movement that began in the Regatta Hotel in 1965 is still on the move with a way to go. The stunning performances of Ryan and Donovan, supported by Sally Cameron and the band under the musical direction of Mark Ferguson tell us that women can now have a career in the industry and raise a family, although it’s hard. Women may no longer need the permission of their husbands for everything from opening a bank account to buying the Pill. but the battle for true equality goes on.
Ryan and Donovan’s World Premiere of Unsung shines a spotlight on women who have the courage and the talent to change the world. I can almost hear the late Frank Ford saying of the commission that now bears his name, “This is such a great show. When are you going to write Unsung 2?”
That will be a show worth waiting for!