Unsung, a tender, devastating domestic drama by Ayndrilla Singharay, draws on her experiences at the ASHA woman’s refuge. It explores an unusual British-Indian family composed of two brothers, Ash and Rhana (Niall Ray and Amit Dhut), and their wives, Joy and Megh (Rajneet Sidhu, Bhawna Bhawsar), who share an apartment in contemporary London.
What makes the play impressive and important is its treatment of its antagonists with understanding, almost sympathy.
At its core is the Othello story: a false allegation of infidelity. Rana, the older brother, tells Ash to “set boundaries” in his marriage early on. The only two places his wife can go without asking permission are Tesco and Asda, Rana says. He’s suspicious of the visits Ash’s wife pays alone to a male friend. Meanwhile, his inability to have children with Megh is placing pressure on his own marriage.
These two story strands, linked by the misogynistic paternalism which motivates Rana’s outbursts, come to a head in one crucial, violent act — the pivot upon which Unsung turns. If there’s one point at which the show falters, it’s in the believability of this and consequent events, which change the lives of all involved forever. But the story’s denouement is elegantly handled. In one beautiful scene, a ghost walks back into the apartment and reaches for a character’s arm, who draws away absently. Everything important to Unsung — looking back and looking forward; man and woman; husband and wife — is implicated in this moment, but so delicately, so subtly, you could blink and miss it.
What makes the play impressive and important is its treatment of its antagonists with understanding, almost sympathy. After their father died, Rana dropped out of university to take care of his younger brother. Ash’s fierce loyalty is hardly surprising. And it seems emphatically right that his conversion comes not in one great quarrel but cumulatively, a growing imperiousness in conflict with genuine love for his wife. “You’re just like our father,” Ash tells Rana with light bitterness. “He was always right, of course.” These lines register a slow, excruciating surrender.
Unsung, finally, is not just about misogyny or value-systems but about rival ways of organising meaning and the self in relation to the world. Can tradition survive alongside modernity, meld with it seamlessly, or will cracks always show? These are the questions it asks — questions essential to a society so thoroughly in flux.