Digital theatre review: Emilia
Ivan | On 26, Nov 2020
“Take the fire as your own. That anger that you feel. It is yours. And you can use it.” That’s the rousing message at the heart of Emilia, a play about 17th-century poet Emilia Bassano. If you’ve never heard of her, that’s exactly the point.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play, commissioned for Shakespeare’s Globe back in 2018 and directed by Nicole Charles, takes us back the 1600s, a time when Shakespeare was already a successful playwright. Emilia, though, was an unheard voice who history overlooked. This play gives her back that voice, and demands to be heard.
One of the first published female poets, she’s a natural figurehead for this vital corrective, and Morgan’s play succeeds by focusing less on precise historical details and more on trying to recreate a vivid, living and breathing memory of her. That means lots of modern, anachronistic dialogue and music, but in a way that draws a pointed line between the past and present – and highlights the sexism that women are still facing today. The problems have changed since 400 years ago, but the cause behind them remains unchanged.
From the way people of colour are boxed as “others” to questions of identity and author, the script picks apart some pertinent concepts, while the cast keep them wonderfully light – having every character played by a woman, including the boorish men, is a joy, especially when they react, shocked, to the idea of a woman being on the stage in a theatre.
The production teases out multiple sides of Emilia’s persona, from the wry voice of experience to the quick-witted repartee needed to inspire and interact with Shakespeare. Playing out like a mix of Belle and Shakespeare in Love, it’s a romp with heart, humour and the confident to shout itself hoarse to encourage women not to be overlooked anymore. “See how far we have come,” she tells the audience directly. “Don’t stop now.”
This recording isn’t the kind of digital theatre production we’re used to today – it’s a simple two-camera recording for archival purposes. But as a chance to catch a timely and hugely enjoyable play, this is one to watch.
Emilia is available to rent on a pay what you want basis until 2nd December.