In this year, at this time, with this message, Emilia feels more important than ever. a triumph
“We are only as powerful as the stories we tell…
we have not always been able to tell them”
Three weeks on holiday and completely off social media have been bliss but within seconds of switching back on, it was hard to miss the buzz around Emilia so I did the right thing and booked myself in at the Globe. And though I’d been forewarned, I still wasn’t quite prepared for just how much Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s brand new play would so thoroughly shake the ground on which it was performing.
Ostensibly, Emilia is a piece of historical biography, a deep dive into the life of Emilia Bassano, a writer who was one of the first Englishwomen to publish an original collection of poems and as contemporary of Shakespeare, a possible inspiration to the Bard. With hard facts about her few on the ground, Lloyd Malcolm toys with this to suggest that that inspiration may have extended beyond giving her name to several of his characters across to providing a literary source from which to crib.
But before you get too hung up on the speculative verve here, the writing is very much rooted in Emilia’s experience and by extension, any and every woman who has had a man stand in her way. Thus the play is a tender exploration of one spectacular woman’s experience in battling the seventeenth century patriarchy but also a ferocious call to arms across the ages to burn the whole system right down.
Nicole Charles’ production is intuitively alive to every beat of this. Her Emilia is cross-cast between Leah Harvey, Clare Perkins and Vinette Robinson (all fantastic btw), emphasising how this really isn’t just one woman’s story. And using an all-female reinforces the inherent manifesto – there’s something wonderfully irreverent about the takedown of Shakespeare’s fragile masculinity as deftly portrayed by an inspired Charity Wakefield.
And more than anything, the magic of Emilia lies in the energy that creates, sustains and elevates to critical mass in its stirring finale. An excoriating final speech by Perkins is the stuff of legends, a real you-need-to-be-there moment that electrifies the audience like nothing I’ve ever seen at this venue. In this year, at this time, with this message, that feels more important than ever.