REVIEW: EMILIA (Vaudeville Theatre) ★★★
March 27, 2019  //  By:   //  Plays, Reviews  //  Comments are off

Emilia was premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in August last year. And with all the grandioseness you’d expect from a Globe production – immaculate multi-layered costumes, an atmospheric string-plucking score and acting which savours every word and rhythm – this show certainly delivers.

However, the Globe’s unique ability to feel like you’re addressing the whole of London and beyond, means that this fierce feminist play’s magic is somewhat lost at the Vaudeville Theatre.

The story retells the life of one of the first ever published female English poets, Emilia Bassano. The ‘Dark Lady’ muse of much of Shakespeares work produced the poetry collection “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” (about the crucifixion of Christ), written from a woman’s point of view and the first potentially feminist work published in England.

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s script combines ‘ye olde’ language with modern slang often creating hilarious moments but also falling flat in their on-the-nose quality.

Emilia herself – portrayed stunningly by Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins – represents a cardboard cut out version of hashtag feminism and sometimes lacks authenticity. The all-female ensemble are gloriously diverse and each wholeheartedly own their bit parts. Amanda Wilkin and Jackie Clune are particularly engaging in their male alter-egos and create some of the funniest moments in the show as Emilia’s husbands Alphonso Lanier and Lord Thomas Howard.

Described by many as ‘a trip to feminist church’, the show is certainly rousing. A profound closing monologue by Perkins details the anger which hums and crackles deep inside every woman – the unspoken inheritance of injustice. Elder Emelia preaches, like she is delivering a sermon, on how to use this anger. That anger is a gift, a drive, something we can all use to strive towards the same goal – equality. The language comes into its own at this point, communicating the importance of feminism with the utmost eloquence. A previously cool audience erupt onto their feet and communal anger is smashed into rapturous applause.

Albeit a relevant play with important themes and an admirable accessibility programme in place – offering the West End’s first known parent and baby performance this April – Emilia doesn’t quite suit the space. The parallels drawn to the Globe in the script and the cast bursting beyond the fourth wall to cause havoc amongst the ‘yardlings’ is enjoyable but not particularly effective. Bassano is worth learning about no matter the venue, however – for probably the first and last time – I would prefer to consume this play in shorts and t-shirt standing for 2 hours 30 minutes instead of from the comfort of a velvet seat.

Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten

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