Rowan Rhenigans: Dispatches of the Red Dress

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A moving reminder of the absolute destruction of war.

Rowan Rheingans’s ‘Dispatches on the Red Dress’ drew me in the minute I sat down. The five instruments placed in a circle on the sparse stage in the intimate studio theatre immediately created a warmth that radiated throughout the entirety of the show. The mixture of music and story-telling was truly beautiful. However, for those who are not fans of folk music or prefer lively performances, I can see how this might not be the show for you.

On a Friday evening after a long week, I was lulled into a place of comfort by the music and her voice. The isolated use of the banjo, the violin and the guitar created a sense of calm, drawing all of your attention towards the music, her voice, and the lyrics; I was truly brought into the moment. The regular rhythm of the music carried throughout, creating a comfortable atmosphere. Although Rheingans was able to create an intimate, warm environment, the lyrics of her songs were powerful. Her new music was inspired by her Grandparents story-telling of their experiences in Germany during and after World War II; I found her lyrics to be inspired and they served as a moving reminder of the absolute destruction of war. However, she reminds us that resistance is always possible through the power of the ‘red dress’.

Rheingans draws on her own family history, telling a story of her Grandmother’s red dress throughout the eighty-minute show. I found myself feeling privileged to be allowed to hear the personal story. Her story-telling ability is captivating and peaceful, even when describing the deeply traumatising experiences of those who lived through the war. She was able to relate to your cosy nostalgic memories of listening to your grandparents talking about the past that seems so alien to us now. The messages of war hit hard and she is able to successfully draw upon your emotions of nostalgia and melancholy. Even if such a genre of performance is not your thing, there is no doubt that the story (and the story-telling) was powerful.

Rheingans’s stage presence was incredibly inspiring; she seemed to float around the stage, effortlessly moving between different instruments whilst seamlessly talking from the heart. She felt every word and I could feel the love that she has for her Grandparents. Although the basic staging and her dark casual attire may initially cast a darkness over the performance, her own personality shines through – she does not need to rely upon theatrical elements. All she needs is her instruments, her voice and her personality to create a truly beautiful performance.

The only critique I have of the show has been mentioned – it certainly isn’t an experience everyone would enjoy. Her music is unique, calm and easy to listen to. But for those who are looking for a lively experience with bold music and intense staging, this likely isn’t going to be something you’d choose to watch. Yet for people who are looking for a more relaxed, personal experience, ‘Dispatches of the Red Dress’ is the show for you. The music will not disappoint those who are ready to be drawn into a unique story-telling experience.

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