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Theatre review Women writ large in Globe renaissance

Globe Theatre, London



BACK in Shakespeare’s heyday, the Globe was a powerhouse of new writing. Yet in its current incarnation, the focus on historical texts has dulled that element of the venue’s identity.

But Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s play Emilia, with the Renaissance as its subject matter, takes a stab at reclaiming that status by putting new writing back on the main stage.

The focus is Emilia Bassano, an early modern poet who might have been Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets but about whom we know relatively little, as is so often the fate of Renaissance women.

But out of this relative historical silence, Morgan Lloyd creates a vibrant and political tale that never lets us forget that the historical repression of women is not something that we’ve left behind.

Told episodically, this story of Emilia’s life is structured by her rage and her relationships with men — as containing and as frustrating as those are — and by her poetry. And we’re constantly confronted with the restrictions and fetters placed on her.

Three different performers play Emilia at different stages in her life and Leah Harvey, Vinette Robinson and Clare Perkins all bring something unique to the role. But are all united in their powerful and thrilling depiction of Emilia’s anger and Perkins’s final monologue is a pulsing, explosive rallying cry.

Nicole Charles’s sharp direction makes wonderful use of the Globe’s space and stage and there's an assured control of tone as the events move from poignant to tragic to brilliantly funny with a wonderful ease.

Charles’s all-female cast crackle with energy and Shiloh Coke, Sophie Russell and Amanda Wilkin all shine, as does Charity Wakefield as Shakespeare. It's the first time a woman has played the Bard at the Globe.

This is an absolutely stunning piece of theatre — entertaining, historically thoughtful and in possession of a brilliant political charge. The power of seeing this work directed and performed by women is indescribable.

Runs until September 1, box office:




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