Essential-Theatre-Lisa-Maza-in-Emilia-Lisa-Maza-in-Emilia-photo-by-Dylan-Hornsby-Good-Gravy-MediaEmilia is fury, passion and hope. Fury can be so positive because sometimes we need fury to make change.

Written by UK playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Emilia was first seen at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2018 before transferring to the West End in 2019.

This Australian premiere is created by local independent company Essential Theatre and it’s an absolute joy to have an indie company (who have made awesome outdoor Shakespeare productions) open on one of our main stages.

Independent theatre belongs on as much on big stages as it does in tiny venues.

Emilia is contemporary historical fiction about Emilia Bassano (1569–1645). She was the first English women to declare herself a professional poet and writer by publishing Salve Deus Rex Jusaeorum in 1611.

This was huge because it was a time when women’s worth were little more than wife or harlot and female brains were considered far too feeble to be able to write. They weren’t even allowed on stages.

She was also in the Royal Court, became a teacher and is often thought to be Shakespeare’s muse, the Dark Lady. There’s so much racism, misogyny and condescending ignorance in what is known about this incredible woman.

Emilia the play is about all of this. All the creators are women and non-binary, and many would still not be considered for many roles because there is still so much racism, misogyny, and condescending ignorance in our theatres and communities.

But this Emilia is having nothing to do with that. There’s anger and fury, but it’s a positive, hilarious and exciting celebration of all that women create together – from communities to safe places to amazing works of art with designs that include comfortable shoes made for walking, running and kicking unfair power in the bum.

Its history has touches of accuracy, but it’s about now and about how our industry is not putting up with it anymore.

And neither should audiences. It’s up to all of us to question what we see on our stages and to stop accepting excuses. Theatre is a game of make believe where we reflect on our lives, our selves and our world. Physical appearance, age or gender don’t matter in games; what matters is what we say and do.

Opening night had a cover and a stage-stop incident that broke the mood, tone and flow. But it all came back by its powerful ending, and it was easy to see what other performances will be like.

Emilia re-imagines some of the fictions about who we see on stages and who makes art. It also makes us question how they ever existed in the first place.

But injury and illness are also having an impact on this production, so check that your performance is going ahead. (On a side note, can we please go back to wearing masks in theatres? As audiences, it’s also up to us to keep each other and those amazing people on our stages safe.)

Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 11 November 2022
Season continues to 27 November 2022
Information and Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Image: Lisa Maza in Emilia – photo by Dylan Hornsby | Good Gravy Media

Review: Anne-Marie Peard