Updated: Sep 28, 2019
The play is a story about the poet Emilia Lanier imagined as the dark lady of Shakespeare’s poems and often the writer of his works. It’s imagined because, as the play often points out, women’s stories in the past haven’t been told. Because we do not know them, we have to imagine them.
The play opens to Emilia reading out some of the few words that were written about her, in particular the word “whore”. We learn she is there to tell us her side of the story and introduces us to two other women, who play Emilia at different stages of her life, with “We are Emilia”.
The play is a rallying cry for women’s rights with a large focus on the lost voices, or the female voices that society tried to silence. One part of the story focuses on Shakespeare using Emilia’s words but passing them off as his own. He arrogantly justifies this because of his use of them in the narrative, never once recognizing her contribution or talent. It’s interesting that her words are only celebrated when used by a man.
Shakespeare, as with all the male characters, is played by a woman. Given the time it’s set, when all roles in theatre would have been played by men, it’s a bold and clever contrast. You can see the actors enjoying the characters they get to be. The acting in the show is excellent throughout, not just the Emilia’s but the whole ensemble.
The play is generally well written but there are times when it sags and it would be easy for certain parts to be trimmed and this detracts from some of the crescendo at the end. But there are some pertinent moments, such as when Emila’s writing is taken away from her in order for her to be a mother.
The set is simple and interesting, being a condensed version of ‘The Globe’ where this was first staged. The play itself is often funny but often tragic with Emilia a pained heroine. But its focus is a call for women’s equality. It’s not subtle in making it’s point known but nor does it need to be. It’s powerful, loud and demanding just as Emilia is determined to be when she addresses the audience at the end in a gripping monologue which had the audience on their feet.
The show has a great moral message and demands change in a fully charged crescendo. The show gets a 4 Laura-Michelle Kelly star rating.
With it closing on June 1st you have limited time to get tickets. Go here to find tickets: https://www.encoretickets.co.uk/london-theatre/plays/emilia