Thursday, 28 March 2019

REVIEW: Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre

This production, which has recently opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, had its premier at the Globe in August 2018. Moving from the Globe can be difficult due to the nature of the space but it really feels like the company have cut a portion of the theatre and placed it in the heart of the West End.

Following the story of Emilia Bassano, the ‘Dark Lady’ erased form History. A girl from a good background educated and taught to contain herself but has a huge voice needing to be heard underneath. From the tender age of 7 years old we see her grow up into a young woman and head straight through into adult life. An aspiring poet, she couldn’t have her work published because women could only have religious text published into the world. After some clever thinking she, and her students, come up with a way to get around this and start to educate Women throughout London. 

What this play does is wake us up. It shows us how similar our times are to then, with the links made by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (writer) between this time period and modern day we can make the parallels between the two societies. Its amazing how far we’ve come, of course, but its also astonishing how little progress we’ve made in this huge amount of time. 

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm doesn’t go halves on telling you how it is, through the narration and the choice to have the lead character split between three actors we are told the struggles and challenges Emilia faced through her life. Although much is speculation and not proven in history, all of It matches up pretty well and Lloyd Malcom could certainly make you believe it! 

An all female cast and creative showing real diversity is truly refreshing to see in the West End, this is how to do diversity in casting! Equal opportunities but not at the sacrifice of talent, the performances in this production were stunning from every member of the ensemble cast. 

With the nature of this play, it is a true ensemble piece. Yes, we focus on the lead character but with the dividing of it into three and multi rolling, it makes for a fantastic and innovative ensemble piece.

The three Emilias were all captivating in their performances; Saffron Coomber
brought a youthful and fresh energy but when the time was right she could flip and we were right on her side every step of the way, Adelle Leonce had the grace, elegance and confidence that a strong minded woman should carry and acting skills to astound and Clare Perkins, as the lady to take us through most of the story, held the show together and spoke with wisdom and passion that fed straight across to the audience. 

Charity Wakefield also gave a brilliant performance as William Shakespeare, a little less caricature than the portrayal of the other men in the play but equally as funny and heart warming. 

The directive choice to portray the men in a commedia dell’arte fashion was both humiliating and hilarious, showing us how ridiculous the laws were and how stupid men have been thinking they have the right to rule over a woman’s body or voice. I applaud Nicole Charles (director) in her brave and bold choices throughout, a director who is a force to be reckoned with. 

What this play is saying is that we need to wake up and make a change, we’ve run out of patience and we are tired of being nice. I have never come out of a show feeling the way I felt about this play. It is time to face the facts and realise the wrongs in history and change them now, our voices can be heard. 

Yes, the writing at times gets slightly preachy and self-righteous, but with the nature of the message and narrative we as an audience feel like we’re at a rally. I myself wanted to get up and cheer but refrained because of the theatre environment. Was I right to do so? Probably, I didn’t want to get a violent tap on the shoulder from the older gentleman behind me. But this is the feeling Lloyd Malcolm wants us to embody, the feeling that we are all in this together and we must make a difference. 

This play has passion, heat, intelligence, anger, fun, humour, hope and elegance. What more could you want? This is the play of the year, if there is one story you are to be told this year, its this one. Go and see it, NOW! 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: G3 Stalls | Price of ticket: £55
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