Posted in Theatre

Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre Review

Last night I saw the last performance of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre. It was a play I’d been meaning to see for some time and ultimately I ended up leaving seeing it to literally me last opportunity but I’m so glad I didn’t miss out.

            Emilia tells the life story of Emilia Bassano Lanier, an Elizabethan poet and proto-feminist. She was one of the first published female poets in the English language and is thought to be the “Dark Lady” from Shakespeare’s sonnets. All this was pretty intriguing for me. If she was such an important figure in English literature, why had I never heard of her and why did she never even get a mention on my English Lit degree? Because her story has been silenced and her work forgotten for years.

            The play stars an all-female diverse cast of very talented women. The three actresses who played Emilia, who each took on the role for a different portion of her life, were fantastic. Saffron Coomber who played Emilia 1 took the character from a bright-eyed child, scared to go to court but still mostly untouched by tragedy to a grown woman who had experienced the unfairness of the world she was living in repeatedly and had faced great losses, both personal and professional. The part of the play when Saffron walks from the stage for Adelle Leonce to take her place as Emilia 2 was genuinely incredibly moving and I think it was this section that created the most humour. Seeing the stage transformed into the Globe (the show was performed at the Globe before transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre so this scene must have been amazing to watch at the Globe itself) and the actors going into the boxes to watch a scene from Othello was brilliant. This scene created comedy and gave a lot of fuel to Emilia’s fire when Emilia 2 realises not only has Shakespeare stolen her words, he’d also put them into the mouth of one of his characters who is, unsubtly, called Emilia.

            It was Emilia 3, played by Clare Perkins, who had the most powerful speeches however. At the end of the show, her final monologue is more like a rally cry for women to not forget their history and to keep fighting for equality in their present and future. It’s a powerful moment which is followed by an amazing dance sequence which sees the whole cast punching the air and shouting.

            Overall I really loved the humour, history, quirkiness and raw emotion of the play. To see what Emilia went through, even creating a school to educate women, is so inspiring and I can’t praise the cast and creatives enough for bringing this incredible story to light and for making me feel so genuinely proud to be a woman.

            I do think the men were played more as caricatures than human beings most of the time but women have been for years so maybe it’s just evening the playing field. Shakespeare is still shown to be literary genius, I particularly liked the last exchange between Emilia and Will when he’s trying to make sense of her and Henry Carey is at least understanding of Emilia’s plight even if he’s still just interested in getting his leg over.

            I love the current focus on retelling the stories of women forgotten in history in London theatre right now in shows like Emilia, Six and Sylvia. And it’s not just these shows that are forming a feminist revolution on the stage, walking around the West End district you see female faces on so many theatres with the likes of Waitress, 9 to 5, Wicked and Tina on right now. It just feels like a good time to be a female theatre fan. Emilia was funny and inspiring and I hope it goes on to have a life beyond this short run at the Vaudeville so even more women can see it and hear Emilia’s incredible story.

Author:

Hey, thanks for visiting my blog. My name's Georgia and I'm a 24 year-old Brit navigating life, both in and out of the blogosphere. I share my love of musicals, books, TV, films, history and dogs (watch out for every chance I get to mention Rebel, my labradoodle!) on this blog. Enjoy!

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