Presented by DaDaFest and Turf Love
Written by John Graham Davies and James Quinn
Directed by Chuck Mike
Liverpool Everyman
9th - 12th March 2016

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

John Graham Davies, the co-writer of Unsung, described Edward Rushton as "a glaring example of a heroic figure who was written out of history."

This production of his life will help rectify this, and for him to receive deserved recognition, most notably for his passionate anti-slavery stance.

This co-production between DaDaFest, an innovative disability arts organisation based in Liverpool, who promote disability and deaf arts, and Turf Love, took three years in the making. The main financial support came from crowdfunding sources.

A different version of Unsung, directed by Matt Rutter, was staged three years ago at the former Unemployed & Trade Union headquarters on Hardman Street in Liverpool city centre.

It was reviewed by Ritchie Hunter in November 2013 - read review.

Rushton's experience of being a seaman, when apprenticed to the shipping industry, left an indelible mark on him in regard to the way slaves were treated. One scene on board ship saw him severely censored by his captain (Liam Tobin) for providing water for some of the slaves, chained up below, to drink in the sweltering heat of Barbados. The captain regarded the tethered slaves as 'cargo', not human beings.

The young and middle-aged Rushton were both effectively portrayed by Joe Shipman. John Wilson Godard, who has been registered blind since infancy, turned in an highly impressive performance as the old Rushton, as the surtitles above the stage described him. The disease, described as 'red eye', which resulted in him going blind, was contracted when he gave assistance to slaves in his charge.

The link between the old Rushton and the black sailor Kwamina (Chris Jack), who had been freed from slavery, is one of the most notable aspects of the play. He serves as an inner voice to him, including warning him of potential dangers when dealing with opponents of his anti-slavery campaign. Kwamina had saved him from drowning, who had died in the act of doing so.

A signer was used throughout the 110 minute production, together with two film screens and sound montage, conveying the torment the slaves on board ship had to daily endure.

The stage design cleverly uses the sails and deck of a boat together with Rushton's bookshop (which was based in Paradise Street in Liverpool), adorned with many classics, including Thomas Paine's Rights Of Man.

Rushton was a man of many talents and trades. As well as being one of the foremost slave abolitionists, together with his bookshop, he ran a tavern, was a poet and established what is now the Royal School for the Blind.

Apparently it is possible that this version of Rushton's life will be staged elsewhere in the country, not just locally. Unsung portrays a universal message.

To obtain a copy of the book about Edward Rushton, 'Forgotten Hero', written by Bill Hunter, call in at News from Nowhere on Bold Street, Liverpool city centre.

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