Paul T Davies reviews Emilia which following a season at Shakespeares Globe followed by a West End season and is now streaming online until 24 November.
Streaming now until 24th November
Watch it here
Perhaps one of the few benefits of this year has been the streaming of theatre, which will, no doubt, affect how future performances are delivered to an audience. Sometimes I miss a production because of limited finances, the run sells out before I get my act together, or time runs away from me. What a relief that I finally seen Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s extraordinary, era-defining play that rewrites history and the rule book. Transferring from the Globe, this recording was made for archive purposes, never for public viewing… until the pandemic changed the rules, and here is a perfect anecdote for Lockdown 2 blues. Yes, the sound is poor in places, but sometimes that is due to the “crucible of energy” created by the whooping audience, and the design by Joanna Scothcer is shown off to excellent effect. Who was Emilia Bassano, allegedly the dark lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets? That so little is known about her gives Malcolm tremendous freedom to create a rousing, roaring history of not just her, but of oppressed women.
As the court dance tutor says, “Ladies, are we ready to slay?” And YES they are! An outstanding ensemble of talent, both performers and musicians, there is not a weakness in the cast. As the three Emilia’s of youth, middle age and older, Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins handle the transitions beautifully, creating one single character that grows and develops as the play progresses. There are tremendous turns form the likes of Jackie Clune as pompous Lord Thomas and feisty Eve, Charity Wakefield a superb William Shakespeare, (How much of her work did he steal- in Othello, Desdemona’s best friend “Even has MY NAME!”), and the River Women are superb. What is effective is that the play, the cast and the direction by Nicole Charles, avoids stereotyping. Broad as the comedy may appear in places, the men behave like men and the women like women who lived in this time period, and had to adhere as such. Although the play roars at times, one of the most effective sequences is when Emilia mourns the loss of
her child, the stillness and silence of both the characters and the audience quietly flowing out from the screen.
She was a published poet, mother, a teacher of women, a feminist, yet history, recorded by men, names her “whore”. The play nods and looks through the fourth wall to draw parallels and comments on our age, where many female writers still have their work dismissed as a hobby, and struggle to get their work seen and their voices heard. History is written and rewritten by those who are given voices, and this play will be seen as a tipping point towards a more diverse, equal and fair theatre. The final speech comes from the heart, and does burn the house down! This is far from the end of Emilia’s story, as every regional theatre and amateur company in the land needs to listen to her voice, and I can’t wait to finally be in a live audience experiencing this play.