The Olivier Award winning play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is a fiercely passionate play about one woman’s journey to reclaiming her voice.
Having originally premiered at the Shakespeare’s Globe in 2018 before transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre (where this online version was recorded), this extraordinary play continues to enthral – particularly on the back of its deserved Olivier Award wins.
Streaming now until the 2nd December, Emilia tells the story of Emilia Lanier – considered to be the first woman to assert herself as professional poet and writer. Played by three different actresses highlighting the different parts of her life from the lose of her parents to fighting for the right to have her voice and words heard it is a mesmerisingly fierce journey.
Through her own writing, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play is extraordinary in the way in which it is able to highlight the similarities between Emilia’s story and so many women’s today to be continually fighting to be recognised and seen as equals. This is so brilliantly highlighted during the scene in which Emilia storms the stage during a performance of William Shakespeare’s play after proclaiming that he is not only using her name but her words too.
Understandably, the script is filled with passion and anger – but there are times when it feels over the top and the power of what is being said is slightly lost in delivery. This being said, there is plenty of humour and affection to be found along the way that maintains a strong emotional core. It switches mood and tone with great ease and style – helped by Zoe Spurr’s lighting design that perfectly enhances Emilia’s emotions of loneliness and anger.
Directed with great grace and focus by Nicole Charles the whole production feels really authentic and even raw – for example when Emilia learns some tragic news and even when she is giving birth, you consistently feel as though you are experiencing everything alongside her.
Visually, there is also much to be enjoyed – particularly with regards to Anna Morrissey’s choreography which is so beautifully fluid and graceful, while the costume designs are gorgeously lavish but never distract from the importance of the story being told. Credit should also go to those who have to help the cast playing numerous roles into different costumes – it can’t have been easy particularly given the limited time in which to do so.
The immense power and dedication that all of the cast give to their performances is utterly incredible. In particular, Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins as the three Emilia’s have synchronised their performances perfectly to highlight exactly how her personality developed and changed over the years depending on her circumstances. All three are effectively immersed in the character.
Elsewhere, other enjoyable performances include Charity Wakefield’s charming if at times selfish William Shakespeare, Jackie Clune as the pompous Lord Thomas and Caroline Pickles as the neglectful Lord Henry Cary who took Emilia as his mistress.
Perhaps at times there are elements in which the production gets a little bit carried away, but there is never any doubt that the play is an important one and shows the power of theatre in highlighting key issues. It is an electrifying, straight-talking piece of theatre that will have people talking for years to come.
By Emma Clarendon
Emilia is available to stream on a pay-what-you-can basis until the 2nd December.
Update: it is now also being streamed from the 1st to the 31st March 2021.