Rowan Rheingans

Sage, Gateshead

12 June 2019

That was extraordinary.

I don't really know how to review this. It wasn't exactly a concert. It was more of a story. With music.

I only knew two things going in. First, that Rowan Rheingans has written some of the most emotionally powerful songs I have ever heard. And second, that this was to be a set of songs about her grandmother in Germany in the 1940s.

As soon as you learn that last point, you jump to obvious conclusions about what it's about. But it isn't what you assume. It's more layered, more ambiguous than that.

And Rowan unfolds the story over 80 minutes of music, song, spoken word, and dance. She is the only person on stage, playing five instruments, abetted by looping and pre-recorded sounds; sometimes playing and singing, sometimes dancing over a perfectly timed recorded backing, sometimes just standing and narrating. It's hard to say when one song ends, because the story carries on with music or words, so nobody claps at the points you might normally expect—there's just silent attention directed at the stage for the whole length of the story.

I can't tell you what the story is about. It's emotionally painful, sometimes shocking, entirely unexpected, and, ultimately, disconcertingly ambiguous. At the end you don't exactly know what to think. Other than, war is shit.

It was extraordinary.

I've never experienced anything like it.

I'm sorry, I don't know how to review it any better than that. You just need to go and see it for yourself.