Saturday, December 3, 2022


Written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Directed By Petra Caliva

Essential Theatre production

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 4 December


Reviewed by Len Power 2 December 2022


Inspired by 17th century poet and revolutionist Emilia Bassano, the supposed ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets, ‘Emilia’ features a team entirely made up of women and non-binary creatives from diverse cultural backgrounds.

A reimagining, that unapologetically champions all women, has three different women playing Emilia at particular stages of her life – Manali Datar as the younger, Cessalee Stovall, the middle-aged Emilia, and Lisa Maza as the older Emilia.  All three give strong, compelling performances.

There is quite a large cast for a touring production.  The few male characters, also played by women, are caricatures to laugh at.  William Shakespeare is played by Heidi Arena as a weak, ineffectual man who probably got at least some of his ideas from Emilia without acknowledging them.

Staged with minimal scenery – a set of stairs and lots of curtains - the production, designed by Emily Collett, looks good and there are colourful period costumes designed by Zoё Rouse.

Cessalee Stovall and Manali Datar

There are some well-written scenes in the play about Emilia’s life that are interesting and involving and the company performs them very well, but the play takes every opportunity to beat us over the head with political messages about how wronged women were over the centuries and insisting we still have a long way to go.  The frequent lectures delivered direct to the audience get pretty tiresome.

Lisa Mazar

The final speech to the audience by the older Emilia is so fiery and there’s such hatred in the words that it left me cold.

According to their publicity, ‘Essential Theatre is a female-led, values-driven company headed by experienced theatre-makers Amanda LaBonté and Sophie Lampel. The two are passionately committed to championing women and presenting Shakespeare through a female lens’.

Photos supplied by the company.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at