‘Emilia’ review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(20user reviews)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Saffron Coomber (Emilia 1) and Charity Wakefield (William Shakespeare)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Nadia Albina (Lady Katherine Howard) and Sarah Seggari (Lady Cordelia)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Saffron Coomber (Emilia 1) and the cast of Emilia
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Adelle Leonce (Emilia 2)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Charity Wakefield (William Shakespeare) and Clare Perkins (Emilia 3)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Charity Wakefield (William Shakespeare)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Clare Perkins (Emilia 3) and Jackie Clune (Lord Thomas, Eve, Lady Helena)
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Clare Perkins (Emilia 3), Saffron Coomber (Emilia 1) and Adelle Leonce (3) 
 (© Helen Murray)
© Helen Murray Jenni Maitland (Countess of Kent)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

This feminist romp through the life of forgotten poet Emilia Bassano is unsubtle, but undeniably fun

Transferring from the Globe, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play about the seventeenth-century poet Emilia Bassano Lanier has already been widely heralded as ‘rousing’ – and it certainly is that. It rouses the audience right to their feet. They whoop and cheer the barnstorming feminist speeches, and literally boo the bad oppressive men.

It is incredibly heartening to hear unabashed feminist rhetoric, spoken by a diverse all-female cast, in a commercial theatre space. And Lloyd Malcolm has uncovered a cracking historical character: Emilia was one of the first published female poets, and a possible candidate for the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets. She provides a clear way in for discussing the centuries-long silencing of women, the oppression they have faced – and still face today. And you’re never far from a totally topical line, the mix of past and present underlined by Lloyd Malcolm’s use of cheerfully anachronistic slangy contemporary phrases.

It can be really fun; this is a gently meta-theatrical and very jolly historical romp of a show, in the mould of ‘Nell Gwyn’ or ‘Shakespeare in Love’. The winkingly modern perspective on the nonsense men spouted and women were expected to put up with is frequently amusing. But the writing and delivery can also be dreadfully on the nose. Our problems are not the same as those of women 400 years ago. It makes the feminist arguments broad and, well, pretty basic.

Emilia is too often a cipher rather than a living breathing character. She feels like a strong, flawless, cut-out fantasy of ‘the feminist heroine we need today!’ but not really a person. Almost every action or aspect of her character seems to have been invented to illustrate some trope of twenty-first-century relatable hashtag feminism. Here are lines about women being taught not to ‘take up space’; here are digs at mansplaining. Lines about the rise of anti-immigration feeling (Emilia was an Italian, possibly of North African descent) sound like they’re delivered through a megaphone marked ‘contemporary relevance’. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but there’s something slightly itchy and uncomfy about resurrecting a forgotten figure only to make her serve our own agenda.

I wanted the play to be suppler, and to show rather than tell. Even speeches that hit the mark in both centuries – as when Lloyd Malcolm skewers the exoticisation of women of colour, or writes so beautifully about the cost of becoming a mother to women’s sense of self – are often proclaimed rather than embodied.

Nicole Charles’s brash, rather cartoonish direction exacerbates all this, but there are places where that approach works. Women playing all the male characters proves an excellent way to prick and deflate their power; and this cast, having a fine time thrusting codpieces and twirling moustaches, also make it very funny.

Smart too is splitting the character of Emilia across three actresses: Saffron Coomber is spirited and charming; Adelle Leonce spars well with Charity Wakefield’s dopey but charismatic Will Shakespeare (who, it’s suggested, nicked his best lines from Emilia); Clare Perkins brings wry knowingness as the narrating older Emilia. She eyeballs us ferociously in an incendiary final speech, in which women are encouraged to embrace the flame of anger inside them. The room ignites, and complaints about structure or character development go up in smoke.

By: Holly Williams



Users say (20)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:7
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:7
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
3 people listening

Emilia is a clever, witty, roof-raising show, about women's rights and feminism. At times it does feel like the message is being hammered down your throat and it does make all men out to be bad, which I think a lot of modern men (and women) would disagree with. That being said, I did enjoy the modern update to quite dated ideas. The acting is excellent, especially from the three main women playing Emilia. Go and decide for yourself!

A very modern message set in the time of Shakespeare. We follow three actresses in the role of Emilia Bassano, a female poet and Shakespeare’s rumoured muse.

The actresses playing the lead role were all incredibly talented and without a doubt were the stand out performances of the cast, but that’s not to say the rest of the all-female cast was also very talented – they all performed brilliantly.

While the message was an important and timely one, at points it felt like it was being shoehorned in at every opportunity. I also felt some parts of the story were rushed over and some of the characters could have been more developed. But overall, it was fairly watchable. 

I love the fact that this is a all female production and it’s the first time I had watched a play with three actresses being cast as main lead to showcase different stages of emilia’s Life. The acting by all was brilliant. The finale speech delivered extraordinary well by the main lead was strong and inspiring and definitely my favourite part of the play.

An all female cast hammer home a compelling point about misogyny during a period when women's voices were just not heard loudly enough (or at all for that matter). While some of the issues still ring true and are more than relevant to this day, the real force to be reckoned with is the main character Emilia Bassano and her powerful ending monologue, which was greeted by rapturous applause from all members of the audience. 

Our heroine is displayed in three different ages by three different actresses throughout the play and all three are at times on stage simultaneously. 

I would have recommended this play even more were it not for the now tiring 'joke' about mansplaining that has just run its course in my opinion. Still, three stars is a recommendation, so go see it and "Don't stop now" #IAmEmilia. 


An all female cast take on the life of Emilia Bassano in a production I'm sure the Globe is happy has transferred. In a somewhat muddled together performance, it struggles to find any real rhythm. Its pro-feminism message is so strong that it obscures much of the rest of the story and the end scene was more reminiscent of a political rally than a play. 

The vocal harmonies by the ensemble underscore some of the play and, in my opinion, work brilliantly. The dribs and drabs of humour are much needed and go hand in hand with some of the more exotic costumes but can't distract from a slow paced story that seems entirely driven by it's feminist bent. No performers really stood out, the direction was fine if safe and the writing was solid if unadventurous.

Emilia Bassano's story is an interesting one to tell but I'm not sure how much of it is based in fact. It really feels as if the topic of feminism was chosen first and Emilia's life was secondary. It never whispers and always shouts and is bold and brash throughout. Portraying all men as the same, awful beings, it never tries to balance the scales. 

All in all, I'm surprised it got a transfer. 

The story of Emilia Bassano is an intriguing one and you are left wondering if she a feminist or a victim of her time. There are moments of fun and laughter but, ultimately, the story feels sad and you are left wondering what if. The performances are powerful and the three lead actresses are brilliant. It did feel a bit preachy at times, but the sentiment was there. A solid play.


Highly enjoyable, while also inspiring. The story about the poet Emilia Bassano works perfectly as the basis for a feminist ‘rethoric'. The first part of the play is quite perfect; beautifully staged, with alluring characters and fun dialogues. After the interval it gets a little preachy, what is a pity; but I guess it’s difficult to get political without being a little moralising (specially in this story). It doesn’t spoil the fun or the wonder, and it does prepare the stage for a beautiful, strong and marvellously acted rant.

Absolutely incredible! Lights a fire in your belly, makes you laugh and cry and angry at why this incredible woman was written out of history as such. The diversity of the cast is such I have rarely seen and made me feel a part of their show.

I absolutely loved this play! It would have been amazing to see it whilst it was on at the Globe however it still managed to pull the audience in with the acting being brought out into the crowd. The all female cast performed brilliantly and the modern references had the audience cracking up throughout. A very empowering message!


Emilia starts slowly and builds to a huge uplifting and incendiary finale, a fantastic feminist speech, impeccably delivered by Clare Perkins, which sends the audience home aware of historical misogyny, and also aware that the only time to change that is now. 

The exposition of the story line is occasionally clunky, however the writing is generally good, with some speeches of brilliance. The direction and use of the auditorium is very clever. Great performances and a wonderful use of live music contributes to making this one of the best political, feminist plays that I have seen. Thoroughly recommended!


Search for the life and works of the real Emilia Bassano and little evidence of her comes to light. But this enables her story to be beautifully and rousingly reinvented for the #metoo era, powerfully demonstrating that though women may have been and still are marginalised and exploited in history and the arts, their voices are being heard and sung.

This play is a stirring feminist call to arms, its climactic final speech full of rage and hunger for strength and recognition that strikes a chord with every audience member. It is a witty, warm, humorous play that can turn on a pinhead into a play of sorrowful, savage, biting, satirical force.

I was so disappointed I missed it at the Globe. I am thrilled that this intensely relevant production is now on stage in the West End.

This play may not be everyone's cup of tea due to strong feminist messages. I happened to love it. 

Despite an all female cast, they played male characters well. Kudos to the 3 women playing Emilia, my favorite was the oldest one. She delivered strong lines and radiated strong fighting energy at the end of the play. It was inspiring to see Emilia fight against male dominated world to get her poetry published. This include her falling in love with William Shakespeare and later resented him for stealing her words.

The play was set in Tudor time. It was peppered with wit, lines implying racism, and chauvinism but light hearted at the same time. A memorable scene was when a Count threatened Emilia saying lines like "Men, control your wives" triggered clapping and booing from the audience. I left the play feeling inspired and wanting to know more about Emilia's story.

On paper, this play has everything that I want: feminist message, all-female cast, deeply emotional scenes interspersed with comedy. But the execution for me was a little lacklustre. 

Overall I'd say it was 'woke for woke-sake' and quite one-dimensional. It would have been nice to see layers to the characters and the plot - it was the same point hammered home (and it came across man-hating rather than pro-women at times). 

THAT BEING SAID. The three leading ladies couldn't be faulted, the second half was leagues better than the first and the final soliloquy was hugely empowering - goosebump territory. 

This a really empowering play for any women that need that moment of pride for how far the fight for equality has come. Prep for much whooping and cheering from all the ladies and most of the men in the audience.

The cast are amazing. You can see how much they care about this story and you can feel the pride they feel in telling it. I also enjoyed the ambient feel from the occasional musical scores with haunting melody. It sounded really beautiful and fit the tale so well.

I’ve never personally felt pushed dish or held back because of my gender but I know many who have and I’m glad this play is out there speaking up for women as many art forms now do.

It was at times a bit preachy but hey sometimes ladies gotta preach out loud to be heard.

The story of Emilia is an intriguing one though and it left me wanting to know more and wishing that there was more factual evidence of her story.

If you ever have the chance to see ‘Emilia’ again, then prepare to be empowered by the all female cast of Emilia that carried this show into a riveting success.

This show was filled with power and strength from beginning to end.

The cast gave their every drop of energy, their every drop of emotion and gave so much life to this production.

This play was brought to a light that it deserved and I’m so thrilled it did well.

The unknown story of Emilia came at a right moment and I can only say it’s about time.

Women are taking over and gaining their equal rights as men.

This play is the kick in the right direction.

There’s obviously a lot of work to do, but if we all make a difference, then change will come.

The power of feminism is one not to be messed with.

The show is about the forgotten poet Emilia Bassano and her life as an active feminist, a mother and a writer.

It was in 1611 that Emilia Bassano started to write her very own words in relation to racism and feminism. She created her own poetry to have a voice, which I found to be brilliant.

I had no idea who Emilia Bassano was until this show came along.

There is not much information about this person, but it is believed that Emilia may have been the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the rest of her story seems to have vanished completely.

It was interesting to see the unknown connection between Emilia and Shakespeare.

‘Emilia’ pushes all the boundaries possible and touches on such important facts of life.

All three actresses that played Emilia were absolutely incredible and so very strong on stage.

It was fantastic to see Emilia’s grow and to see what her life was truly like.

Every step of the way she definitely became a stronger character.

Leah Harvey, Vinette Robinson and Clare Perkins were outstanding as Emilia.

I loved the diversity of using women to play male characters.

It didn’t make a difference at all. It turned out to be even better in my eyes.

Charity Wakefield as William Shakespeare was great. The connection was visible on stage.

Overall the cast and this show was a force to be reckoned with.

Love MD.


Amazing play, sad that it's now closed. A play for women by women, it was inspiring and passionate.  Am not surprised that the white male reviewer only gave it 2 stars, maybe Time Out should branch out get more diverse reviewers with a diverse mind.

Great performances with a bit of an inconsistent script and pacing (in the 2nd half, the plot stops sometimes for a speech, and then major events happen and are passed over quickly). The humour was sometimes well-timed and witty, and sometimes a little obvious and bordering on self-parody. Very important message and made more powerful by the context ('Shakespeare's' Globe no longer!). But it turns out that these things can have great political messages and still be just okay to watch.

Edit: I think I just don't really like agitprop to be honest.

Astounding new work that's as entertaining as it is important. Hands-down one of the most powerful experiences I've had in the theatre in years.Could not disagree more with Time Out's two star assessment, and found each iteration of Emilia thoroughly engaging.

Absolutely fantastic performance with a most talented all-female ensemble. It brings a new timelessness to the issues of migration, refugee-hood and women's rights. Proving solidarity in struggle and the importance of ensuring that minority voices are silenced no more!

Similar events