Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins in Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre. Photo credit: Helen Murray

REVIEW | Emilia | West End

Emila Bassano is a poet and writer who just wants her voice to be heard, and it finally is in this powerful production about her life. Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s play is pure perfection and writing a review that does it justice quite frankly feels impossible.

Telling the true story of the woman who is thought to have been the ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Having lived from 1569 to 1645, the play suggests she was Shakespeare’s lover and a remarkably talented writer whose words Shakespeare happily borrowed.

Told through three different Emilia’s throughout generations of her life through Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins, we are introduced to a woman with burning passion for equality. They tried to silence Emilia’s voice and this commanding play gives a platform to her untold story. 

The all-female cast are simply spectacular as they bring all the characters that Emilia encounters to life. We meet Shakespeare, Lord Chamberlin and the men that affect her life and it is told through slick humour and wit. It almost felt like sitting in a room where everyone felt the same thing as the audience laughed about the men’s entitlement and arrogance. It’s such brilliant dry humour as they talk of mansplaining and enter the room stating; “Excuse me, excuse me, important man coming through.” 

What is so incredible about this show is the well executed balance of the witty skilled writing with the passionate depiction of anger. When Emilia faces unspeakable inequality for being a woman, the rage builds up into a final speech that will go down in history as a monologue that captured all my emotions.

As I sat and listened to Clare Perkins use Emilia’s voice to talk about anger that drenched in desperation for something to change. This speech packs a punch like nothing I’ve witnessed at the theatre ever has done before. It’s candid, raw and exactly what needs to be said.

“You say we hate men as if we silence them, as if we beat and abuse them, rape them, as if we shame them for their desires, as if we restrict them from any kind of independence and agency. As if we hang them and drown them and stone them and burn them.”

It’s astounding how the play manages to be so incredibly funny as it encapsulates just how ridiculous the sexism women faced was, yet is so thought-provoking and informative. It’s a fierce feminist piece of theatre that can be used to educate the world about important change that needs to be made. Every woman, every man needs to immerse themselves in Emilia’s story as it’s a truly revolutionary piece of theatre. It’s a thrilling, empowering and utterly essential story to have on stage.

At the end of the show Emilia asks us to look how far we’ve come but to keep fighting forward. “Don’t stop now,” she says, “The house that has been built around you is not made of stone.” 

Leave a Reply