Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night December 2
Playwright: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (UK)
Director: Petra Kalive; Movement Director: Xanthe Beesley
Set Designer: Emily Collett; Costume Designer: Zoë Roüse
Composer & Sound Designer: Emah Fox/Sharyn Brand
Lighting Designer: Katie Sfetkidis
Production Manager: Rockie Stone; Stage Manager: Olivia Walker
Deputy Stage Manager: Rain Iyahen; Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Smith
Co-Producers: Amanda LaBonté, Sophie Lampel, Darylin Ramondo and Sonya Suares Associate
Producer: Trish Carlo
Emilia 1: Manali Datar; Emilia 2: Cessalee Stovall; Emilia 3: Lisa Maza
William Shakespeare / Man 2: Heidi Arena
Lady Margaret Clifford / Midwife / Man 1: Emma J Hawkins
Lord Alphonso Lanier / Lord Collins / Emilia (Othello) and others: Catherine Glavicic
Margaret Johnson / Mary Sidney / Hester: Carita Farrer Spencer
Judith / Priest / Lord Henry Carey: Genevieve Picot
Lady Cordelia / Lady Anne and others: Jing-Xuan Chan
Susan Bertie The Countess of Kent / Mary Bob: Amanda LaBonté
Lady Katherine / Desdemona (Othello): Sonya Suares
Lord Thomas Howard / Dave / Flora: Sophie Lampel
Eve / Lady Helena: Sarah Fitzgerald
Understudies: NazAree Dickerson and Izabella Yena
Bruce Lehrmann / Retrial won’t proceed after prosecutors drop charges for alleged rape of Brittany Higgins
When I read this headline that night in The Guardian I felt sickened and angry.
When I read why this woman would not receive justice, my anger was not abated. The ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold …. said he still believed "there was a reasonable prospect of conviction at a second trial".
But he said he had to consider the public interest in proceeding, given a retrial would pose a “significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant”. [My emphasis]
“I’ve recently received compelling evidence from two independent medical experts that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution represents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant.”
Though the evidence made public during the aborted trial could hardly be seen in any light except that though the woman was at the very least mistreated, it is the man who becomes the ‘defendant’ in court as if he is the victim and she the aggressor. But how else can she get justice except by laying charges?
And then to have a juror break the jury room rules by introducing material beyond the evidence heard in court! My anger only grew as I wondered who this juror was and what was their motivation. Reading more – as the prosecutor says “During the investigation and trial, as a sexual assault complainant, Ms Higgins has faced a level of personal attack that I have not seen in over 20 years of doing this work…. She’s done so with bravery, grace and dignity and it is my hope that this will now stop.” – and I can only feel horrified and even more angry that the law cannot find justice for the woman while all the man has to do is to continue to maintain he is innocent.
So when at the end of Emilia, Lisa Maza as Emilia in her later years expresses her deep anger at the refusal of men to treat women as their equals, with an image of hot anger like the heat in the centre of the earth, I understood what she meant. She spoke directly to us, asking us did we feel that anger? The first time just one woman’s voice broke the silence, “Yes”. When asked again, all the women’s voices filled the Playhouse, “Yes!”
This is the woman, Emilia Lanier née Aemilia Bassano, described in Essential Theatre’s program: “poet and revolutionist in 1609 and her sisters reaching out to audiences across the centuries with passion, fury, laughter and song as they inspire and unite to celebrate women’s voices through the story of this trailblazing, forgotten woman”.
In this remarkably complex script, intertwining the words of Emilia with those of William Shakespeare, taking up the possibility that she was his ‘dark lady’ – his inspiration and likely originator of speeches in many of his plays – writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm stands alongside other women whose works I have mentioned on this blog site: Pat Barker (April 2022) in her two novels about the Trojan War: The Silence of the Girls (Penguin 2018) and The Women of Troy (Penguin 2021) and Maggie O’Farrell (June 2020) in her story of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet (Tinder Press, UK 2020).
The production of Emilia is certainly done with “passion, fury, laughter and song as they inspire and celebrate”, in an amazing array of costumes and a simple but cleverly designed set, with excellent lighting and sound. The show is exciting to watch, engaging us with the issues in a very modern way in an almost cartoon-like picture of the English court in the time of the Lord Chamberlain’s Players, Shakespeare's theatre company. Often very funny, yet with times of despair, we are taken through the experiences of this fascinating character Emilia, determined to be a writer from a demanding seven-year-old (Manali Datar) through growing up and maturity against the odds (Cessalee Stovall), to a very justifiably angry older woman (Lisa Maza).
Perhaps you may want to criticise me for writing more detail about the real Bruce Lehrmann case than about the performance on stage, but this is a polemical play. The truth is that in my threescore years and twenty – older than King Lear – the poems of Emilia Lanier, nor even her existence, have never been brought to my attention. The silence is the injustice, just as it is for Brittany Higgins. The headline on the front page of The Canberra Times, December 3, 2022, reads “Higgins in hospital, case dropped”.
But thankfully today we have Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emilia_Lanier and AZ Quotes https://www.azquotes.com/author/69017-Emilia_Lanier to tell us more. If Emilia Lanier had no part to play in Kate’s ironic speech to women at the end of The Taming of the Shrew, I would find it hard to believe. Emilia Lanier wrote
Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty.
You came not in the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty;
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?
William Shakespeare’s Kate says, and means it:
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm has written Emilia to break 400 years of silence. So far its run has been at the Playhouse Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne, November 11th to 27th, and now at Canberra Theatre Centre. Commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe, where it premiered in August 2018, Emilia then transferred to the West End, "becoming the hottest ticket in London". Surely this Australian production must at least tour this country. The Canberra season is far too short.
And I hope for Brittany Higgins’ full recovery and that she will receive the justice she is due.
|Essential Theatre Company
My suggested follow-up movies: Margrete Queen of the North and She Said.