Shakespeare’s Globe, London ****
Review by Carole Woddis of performance seen Aug 15, 2018:
Following hard on the heels of Othello in this year’s season, you’d think that Michelle Terry’s new commission, judging by its title, would be a play based on Iago’s wife, Emilia, the one who too late realises what a villain her husband has been – a kind of complementary companion piece to Shakespeare’s.
Well, it turns out, yes and no. Certainly a new commission, but even bolder than being based solely on Shakespeare’s creation, Terry commissioned a new play from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm that looks at the woman who may well have been the source of inspiration for the character of Emilia.
In so doing, she has created not just a rollicking feminist call to arms based on the barely known late 15th, early 17th century poet, Emilia Bassano Lanier, but a universal symbol for all women and their stories that have not been told, that have never seen the light of day.
Recalling Phyllida Lloyd’s recent Donmar all-female Shakespeares, Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia also sports a full female cast as well as creative team of designer, musicians et al. Truly, despite the obstacles in the higher, political and economic echelons of our society, there is something abroad in this new generation of women theatre makers, determined to bring on colleagues and the next generation of women artists.
Heartening to see and Lloyd Malcoln’s Emilia in Nicole Charles rumbustious, energetic and wholly appealing production carries almost all before it, lighting up a Bankside audience, young men and women alike until with a final roar and exhortation to pull the whole unequal, injustice system to the ground, Clare Perkins’ Emilia brings the three hour traffic to a halt with `burn the house down’!
Emilia, it has to be said and as the fulsome programme notes point out, is an invention if based on a real woman, Emilia Bassano Lanier, the daughter of a court musician, possibly of mixed African descent, whose father and mother both die young and as the play makes clear, is forced to constantly make choices as to how to survive.
Luckily, she is befriended by well-placed, educated aristocratic women who recognise her latent writing talents.
Still she must play by the rules, court men and becomes the mistress of Lord Carey, Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord Chamberlain no less (who supports and gives his name as patron to Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men). She bears Carey’s child, is married off to a cousin and her story weaves in and out of historical events as her fortunes rise and fall.
Most importantly, her journey through life becomes one of burgeoning feminism. Frustrated by the conventions of the times in which she lives, determined to become a published poet, and equally pass on her views and advice to other women about how to `beat the system’, her life as envisioned by Lloyd Malcolm constantly sparks contemporary parallels, be it to do with racial differences, immigration, domestic abuse, women and literature. Or just pure survival.
But it’s the tone of Charles’s production that will live long in the memory and that perhaps inspired such affection and rapport on press night.
Though the play could do with cutting, it fits and suits the open-hearted concentrated dynamic of the Globe to a tee. Charles’s style is at once warm, humorously tongue-in-cheek and all-embracing and draws committed, full-throttled ensemble playing from everyone involved.
Emilia herself is played by three actors – Leah Harvey, Vinette Robinson and rip-roaring, no-holds-barred Clare Perkins. Each brings their own individual quality to Emilia as she travels through life. They work beautifully together.
All other parts, men included, are carried by the rest of the female cast. Carolyn Pickles in particular as Lord Carey cuts a wonderfully swaggering figure. And there is enormous fun in the satirical dance created for a bunch of male suitors out on the town, looking to seduce their opposite number.
Sophie Russell as Lord Thomas Howard is a ripe portrait of male chauvinism whilst Charity Wakefield’s William Shakespeare – who may or may not have met Emilia Bassano Lanier; and she may or may not have been the inspiration for his `Dark Lady’ of the Sonnets and the original Emilia on whom Shakespeare based his Othello character – makes a sweet-tongued Will.
Lloyd Malcolm plays on these possible facts with great glee including Emilia’s speech from Othello warning men to treat women well, lapped up by the knowing Globe audience.
Most of all, though, this Emilia is an inspired and inspiring conjuration of a truly remarkable, ignored and forgotten spirit.
Emilia Bassano Lanier, unusually for those days, lived to the impressive age of 76. She may have been the first published female poet with her religious poem, Salve Eus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews) in 1610 and her life span covers the arrest of Mary Queen of Scots to the opening of the first playhouse, Burbage’s the Theatre, through Queen Elizabeth’s death and to Cromwell’s defeat of King Charles at Naseby.
There is no mistaking the anger that informs and pulsates through the piece like a roaring fire. But this is an Emilia for our life and times, bringing the past and present and hopefully the future into glorious unison.
A new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Lady Katherine Howard/Desdemona/Muse/River Woman: Nadia Albina
Lady Mary Sidney/Margaret Johnson/Eve/Muse: Anne Andresen
Lady Anne Clifford/Lord Collins/Muse/Man at the Globe 2/River Woman: Shiloh Coke
Emilia 1: Leah Harvey
Countess of Kent/Mary/Muse/Man at the Globe 1/Simon Forman: Jenni Maitland
Emilia 3: Clare Perkins
Lord Henry Carey/Muse/Judith/Priest: Carolyn Pickles
Emilia 2: Vinette Robinson
Lord Thomas Howard/Hester/Lady Helena/Muse: Sophie Russell
Lady Cordelia/Muse/Flora: Sarah Seggari
Lady Margaret Clifford/Midwife/Drunk Man 1/Muse/Priest 2/River Woman: Sophie Stone
William Shakespeare/Drunk Man 2/Valentine Simmes/River Woman/Muse: Charity Wakefield
Alphone Lanier/Muse/River Woman/Emilia in Othello: Amanda Wilkin
Musical Director/Shawms/Recorders/Dulcians/Bagpipes: Emily Baines
Sackbut/Guitar: Elinor Chambers
Drums/Percussions: Calie Hough
Shawms/Recorders: Sarah Humphreys
Shawms/Recorders/bagpipes/Violin: Sharon Lindo
Director: Nicole Charles
Designer: Joanna Scotcher
Composer: Bill Barclay
Choreographer: Anna Morrissey
Music Director: Bill Barclay
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams & Ruth Cooper-Brown of Rc-Annie Ltd
Physical Comedy DirectorL Joe Dieffenbacher
Globe Associate – Movement: Glynn McDonald
Voice Coach: Tessa Dignan
Assistant Director: Anna Holmfeld
Costume Supervisor: Lydia Crimp
Jacqui Beckford, Susan Booth, Jeni Draper, Sula Gleeson, Taz Hockaday, Paul Hollingdrake, Stephen Hudson, Alim Jayda, Caroline Richardson, Jo Ross, Natasha Tranom, Anna Trethewey, Tracey Tyer, Jess Veal, Hannah Watson, Bev Wilson, Kathy Yeoman-Owens.
World premiere of Emilia at Shakespeares Globe, Southwark, London, Aug 10, 2018. Runs to Sept 1, 2018
Review published on this site, Aug 18, 2018