Monday 16 November 2020

Theatre review: Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

It's been a long year for everyone, but, in among lots of job applications, part time work, and stressing about both university and life, I have been able to see and read some things that I really want to share with you!  First of all, here's my review of Emilia !

Title: Emilia
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director: Nicole Charles
Featured Performers: Saffron Coombs, Adelle Leonce, Clare Perkins
Performed at: The Vaudeville Theatre, London
Review: The early 1600s may be one of the primary flourishing periods of English Literature - William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, John Fletcher- but do we remember any of the women? I certainly hadn't heard of Emilia Bassano, a writer living at the same time as Shakespeare. But writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm had, and she used the story to write a play that places women at the forefront of the story, and encourages women on-stage and off-stage to take up space.

I missed this when it was on live, but thanks to lockdown, archive footage is available to stream until 24 November. I was looking forward to seeing this, as I enjoy seeing history on stage, particularly when elevating unheard stories. 

The play skilfully mixes the Renaissance with the modern (music includes haunting choral arrangements and rap music, with choreography to match) and comedy (bawdiness and one-liners) and seriousness (men trying to tell Emilia where she should be, an older Lord Chamberlain offering a path to patronage if she comes to his chambers). This mix even comes simultaneously - for example, Emilia rejects some of William's suggested lines, crying out 'That's racist!' and Emilia's husband tells her 'Well done for not dying!' in childbirth. 

The writing also mixes in lines from William's plays, and positions both that Emilia inspired and directly wrote some of the more famous parts. This lets us consider the themes of intellectual ownership, seduction and hidden meanings behind words, and who gets credit for what is said. 

The play also considers class inequality - Emilia's anguish as her reputation is tarnished - 'Will this be how I am remembered?' - can be contrasted with the other ways the women of lower classes are violated, but female solidarity is the centrepiece of the play, as she teaches the other women to think for themselves, and the play is designed for all-female companies. 

 The triptych of actresses playing Emilia allow us to see her inner thoughts as well as her external expressions. The oldest Emilia, played by Clare Perkins, narrates the actions of her younger counterparts' actions (Saffron Coomber and Adelle Leonce), and the incarnation at the centre of the action is supported by the other two. 

The costumes are beautifully detailed and colour-coded. Men wear the reds of violence and power; women wear the green of the court, the black of relative independence, and neutrals of anonymity. Another choice I liked was when Alfonso, Emilia's husband, played by Amanda Wilkin, removed his long smooth wig and revealed his natural hair underneath - another example of needing to suppress oneself to fit in to society. 

The play is full of passionate calls for equality and determination to get there - early on in the play, we have the line 'I demand my poems be published, and I will see that they are,' and the end of the play is an impassioned monologue calling on all women to burn harder and brighter than anything that tries to destroy them. In the time of coronavirus, as the arts industry is abandoned by the government, and protests for equality taking place throughout summer and beyond, this call for resilience sounds very loud indeed. 

Strength 5 tea
Warnings for a suicide attempt , miscarriage child death, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse

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Thanks for taking time to read this!
Comments are much loved.
Nina xxx

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