With their ferocious passion, wit and emotion, Saffron Coomber, Claire Perkins and Adelle Leonce bring Emilia roaring to life on the stage of the Vauderville Theatre alongside an all-female cast. 

This Olivier Award winning play is based on true events and follows the life of Emilia Lanier, the ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets but more importantly a poet and feminist who was erased from history. Its clever reevaluation of the past places Emilia at the centre of her story, allowing her voice to finally be heard. 

The audience follows Emilia through the stages of her life, with each portrayed by a different actress. Saffron Coomber as the youngest who we watch grieve her parents and discover her love for poetry in the royal court. She is followed by Adelle Leonce as an older Emilia, struggling to make her voice heard as she becomes Shakespeare’s muse. Finally, Claire Perkins brings the play to a dramatic climax as she fights for women’s voices, recruiting a team of women alongside her. 

A unique aspect of this play is that all three of the Emilia’s are often on stage together, but oblivious to each other. For example, both of the older Emilia’s watch and narrate young Emilia’s life directly to the audience. This feature was so effective and gripping; it really emphasised unity amongst women, which is what the play is all about. In an emotional scene, Emilia is giving birth whilst holding hands with her older selves as a group of women all breathe and scream in time with her. The all-female cast and creative team was exactly what this play needed to make it a breath of fresh air. 

Coomber, Perkins and Leonce in Emilia
Source: The Official Emilia Trailer

It has a perfect balance of heart-wrenching moments followed by comedic relief. The extravagant portrayal of the male characters is almost mocking, like an inside joke between the audience and cast that the male characters are there to be laughed at. However, the dynamic between each of the Emilia’s and Charity Wakefield as William Shakespeare was nothing short of electric. When Shakespeare – or ‘Will’ as he’s referred to throughout the play – recites Sonnet 130 to Emilia, you could hear a pin drop in the audience. 

The intense and emotional ending scene that brings the play to a close leaves the audience feeling inspired. Perkins’ Emilia is reunited with Shakespeare who breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly, telling Emilia that she deserves all of this right now, pointing at the audience. Emila then delivers a passionate monologue as she tells the audience: “Listen now when I say to you to take the fire as your own”. The all-female cast then joins her onstage to end with a joyful and comedic dance, lifting the spirits of all women and men alike. 

In short, Emilia is a play everyone should watch. Although it’s set in the 1600’s, the narrative is relevant to a modern audience and it will leave you both laughing and crying,  giving the stage to a woman who should have had it a long time ago. 

Available to watch at emilialive.com until 2nd December 2020

5/5

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