Emilia at Shakespeare’s Globe
Upon entering the theatre, it’s hard to know what to expect from a play centred on a woman we know little about, who may have been Shakespeare’s muse.
Emilia was penned by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm – writer of successful productions Belonging and The Wasp – as part of the Globe’s new writing series. The playwright herself acknowledges knowing little about the titular character, but states that this allowed her a sense of creative freedom, something few of the plays about historical figures can claim.
And what the writer does with this freedom is truly impressive. Watching the production is like being transported back to The Globe’s heyday: bawdy jokes, cross-dressing and raucous laughter from the audience are all reminiscent of traditional Shakespeare. Of course, some of this comes from the theatre’s majestic setting, fantastically utilised by Joanne Scotcher’s brilliantly enveloping set design, and the carefully constructed musical pieces that use some of the familiar sounds of the period.
However, this drama is thoroughly modern; this is Shakespeare for the #MeToo generation. Emilia is played by three actresses – Leah Harvey, Vinette Robinson and Clare Perkins – all of whom deliver stellar performances and remain on stage for almost the entire play. In fact, the whole cast is a female ensemble, each actor playing a number of parts. This is fitting considering the narrative determinedly writes back into history a long-forgotten female talent. Lloyd Malcolm’s writing and Charles’s directing beautifully compliment each other to give a nuanced and fully rounded picture of the protagonist: as beautiful as she is strong, as angry as she is kind, as intelligent as she is brave. And frankly, Emilia makes the slightly wimpish Shakespeare pale in comparison.
The play celebrates womanhood, diversity and those whose voices history has not seen fit to include. There is a danger that the piece could seem preachy – hammering home that which we should already know – but the balance is drawn beautifully between the drama’s knowing humour and its serious message; topical jokes about racism, sexism, anti-immigration rhetoric and Brexit complement the crescendo of the rabble-rousing final speech.
Watching Emilia is a captivating, transcendent experience made all the better by the significance of the setting. An intelligent piece of theatre, the staging is unafraid of engaging in topical issues whilst also seeing the humour within them. Its astute quips and acerbic speeches really bring home that though things may have changed since the days of the Bard, we still have a long way to go.
Photo: Helen Murray
Emilia is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 10th August until 1st September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.