Tag Archives: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

“Emilia” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Ostensibly an historical biography of poet and proto-feminist Emilia Bassano, playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and her director Nicole Charles have current times very much in mind for a play that’s about sexism and racism.

The key move is to use the fact that little is known about Bassano. If the name rings a bell, it’s as the reputed ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets: the casting takes this literally to examine prejudices suffered due to race as well as gender. The wish is to reclaim women and minorities in history, and the result is unashamedly political.

The language alone tells you the target is the here and now. There’s talk of positions of privilege and mansplaining and, when it comes to dancing, they “slay”. Lloyd Morgan’s many eloquent turns of phrase include a motif of “uprooted growth” for Bassano’s African origins: a heritage that means she is used as a “curiosity” at court – a double whammy of abuse.

We get not one but three Emilias, who are all impressive. Led by a magisterial Clare Perkins, there are strong performances from Vinette Robinson and Leah Harvey, who work together to take us through the character’s life.

Leah Harvey and Charity Wakefield

The all-female ensemble supports with vigour in a variety of roles, most entertainingly when taking on male parts. Sophie Russell’s Lord Howard is great, with a brilliant dash of Lord Flashheart from Blackadder. And we get to meet Will Shakespeare himself – a delicious performance from Charity Wakefield – who gets a poor rap considering he’s one reason we’re all sitting on the Southbank. Appropriating some of Bassano’s lines, he’s part of the problem, saved only by being amusingly ineffectual. Emilia is specially commissioned for The Globe, a scene is set in the theatre and Charles uses the space superbly – maybe the chance to resist bardolatry was irresistible.

It seems safe to say Lloyd Malcolm hopes to stir debate. Uncomfortable parallels with Elizabethan immigration policy are leapt on and Emilia’s wish for a “voice” is a recurring theme. There are some problems: religion is mostly omitted and considering class brings a lot of trouble. Emilia comes to see her own privilege and, as is de rigueur, has to be reminded that victimhood isn’t a competition by a circle of sisterly support, Yet with the working-class women Emilia befriends, somewhat miraculously, we are in tarts-with-hearts territory too quickly.

This is an openly angry affair and that may turn some people off. Yet the sense that theatre can do something, a calling to account and an empowerment, is sincere and moving. But it does have an unfortunate consequence. The play destines itself to fail as biography: the action is too brief, taking on too many key moments (a baby daughter’s death feels especially truncated), when fewer might have been addressed in more depth. The result is little sense of Emilia as an individual. The character can’t get away from the – always admirable – arguments. You can cheer along with many of the sentiments, but is there a question that Emilia is merely being used all over again?

Until 1 September 2018


Photos by Helen Murray

“Above and Beyond”at the Corinthia Hotel

Although it’s a tough job, theatre critics should aim for some semblance of objectivity when they write. That makes Above and Beyond, currently playing at the Corinthia Hotel, difficult to deal with. Billed as “one-on-one immersive theatre” the thrill is that each audience member can make of it what he or she wills. Participation, which many, including reviewers, dread, plays a big part. It’s an exciting adventure, best commended by saying that at the end it’s something you’ll want everyone to do.

When it comes to the ‘doing’, Above and Beyond is a tremendous achievement on the part of its cast and apparently super-human director Mimi Poskitt. After being escorted to the starting point in the lobby, you launch on a solo journey in and outside the hotel, up and downstairs, meeting all kind of characters. Of course your every move is plotted to perfection and the mechanics of the operation are almost distractingly smooth – you can’t help looking out for other participants and maybe start to feel a little paranoid that everyone you see is a member of the cast. The plethora of details is delightful and the execution faultless. And give yourself some credit – interacting with the cast like this, no matter how skilfully encouraged, is unusual and engrossing.

Such is the level of complicity established, I confess my allegiances lie with the team behind the show, the Corinthia’s ‘Artists in Residence’, Look Left Look Right. There’s a charge from the unexpected that they utilise so any plot spoilers would be unfair to this hard working crew. Suffice to say, don’t expect a narrative as such, rather of collection of stories, written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons, inspired by the hotel, its staff and the international elite who stay in a place like this.

The scenes designed to provoke sentiment and nostalgia, with a nod to the location’s history, worked less well – for me anyway – but the majority of Above and Beyond has a sense of fun, a welcome change from much theatre in this format, and an intelligent wit that recognizes the bizarre situations. This is one of the funniest nights I’ve had in ages – I couldn’t stop laughing in several scenes. And a couple of teasers: expect a real giggle in the spa and check your face for make-up before you leave.

Lloyd Malcolm and Lyons have an impressive sense of independence despite the overwhelming generosity of the hotel. Going behind the scenes could prove awkward and a marketing seminar you are invited to join is close-to-the-bone funny. But the Corinthia is its own advertisement, with interiors gorgeous enough to awe a humble theatre critic and a penthouse suite I felt privileged to visit. The real members of the hotel staff deserve credit as well since the experiment must make more work for them. Let’s hope they get a chance to experience some of the magic themselves.

Until 14 April 2013

Written 20 March 2013 for The London Magazine