Pop-up Globe Auckland, 80 Ascot Avenue, Ellerslie, Auckland

06/03/2020 - 22/03/2020

Production Details

If they try to burn you, may your fire be stronger than theirs” 

Pop-up Globe are thrilled to announce the international debut of London’s smash-hit 3 x Olivier Award nominated play Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm to round off our Farewell Auckland season.

Directed by Miriama McDowell and featuring an incredible cast and creative company of diverse wāhine to bring the story to life.

Emilia tells the story of the elusive Emilia Bassano, the possible ‘Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets’.

Exploring sexism and marginalisation and challenging Shakespeare as you know him.

Emilia harnesses the spirit of 21st-century feminism while honouring one of the earliest advocates of the cause. Long ignored, Emily Bassano is now lauded as one of the earliest feminist authors – a poet, writer, and teacher who paid tribute to the collective strength and support of women.

More than just a muse for men, her subversive, feminist spirit gets to have her story told at last.

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s ground-breaking play Emilia, written for an all-female cast of diverse women, premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in the summer of 2018 and then transferred to the West End. A rallying cry for theatrical and societal change, Pop-up Globe are proud to present its international premiere in our Auckland playhouse to close our Farewell Auckland season, presented by Anthony Harper.

Once the season closes, the theatre will Pop-down ready to embark on its overseas adventures.  There can be no extensions. Secure your seats today before the season sells out.

Our Time is Now. 400 years ago, in Shakespeare’s London, Emilia Bassano wanted her voice to be heard. It wasn’t. Could she have been the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets? What of her own poems? Why was her story erased from history? Emilia and her sisters reach out to us across the centuries with passion, fury, laughter, and song. Listen to them. Let them inspire and unite us.

Pop-Up Globe, Ellerslie Racecourse, 80-100 Ascot Ave, Auckland
6-22 March 2020

About Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Emilia is the third stage work from British playwright and author Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. Catapulted into the spotlight with the incredible success of Emilia, Malcolm is a versatile talent who currently has projects happening across television, film, and stage.

Taking only a year to write the acclaimed feminist work, Emilia has already been optioned as a film and Malcolm is currently developing the script for the screen with producer Manon Ardisson (God’s Own Country). Aside from Emilia, Malcolm has had her previous work produced at the Hampstead Theatre and Trafalgar Studios and been commissioned by the Old Vic, Clean Break, and Firehouse Productions. She is developing a book adapting her play The Wasp into a screenplay for Paradise City Films.

Her three works for the stage, Emilia, The Wasp, and Belongings, all centre women and their voices, a deliberate choice made by Malcolm to use her own privilege and power to help level the playing field – prioritising “writing good, complex, interesting roles for womxn to get their teeth into.”

About Pop-up Globe
The Anthony Harper Pop-up Globe theatre is a three-story, 16 sided, 633 person capacity theatre.  It unites cutting edge scaffold technology with a 400 year old design to transport audiences back in time.  No matter where they sit or stand in the theatre, audience members are never more than 15 metres from the heart of the action on stage.  Sometimes they will even find themselves part of the play…

Emilia will be the final show to grace the stage of The Anthony Harper Pop-up Globe Theatre, and first non-Shakespeare production to do so. A contemporary play to round out the journey started in 2016, before Pop-up Globe embarks overseas to represent New Zealand on the world stage.

About Anthony Harper

Anthony Harper is an award-winning, internationally ranked, national law firm.

For more than 150 years we have helped and advised New Zealand and international clients achieve their goals. Our high performing, internationally ranked solicitors are deeply immersed in our 27 specialist areas. As one of the largest law firms in New Zealand we are proud to be able to solve the most complex of problems for our clients, whilst fostering an inclusive work environment and enhancing our local communities. There is a difference. For further information, see www.anthonyharper.co.nz.

Acushla-Tara Kupe – Emilia 1
Jennifer Van Epps – Emilia 2
Fiona Collins – Emilia 3
Bree Peters – Mary Sidney/ Midwife/Mary
Rashmi Pilapitiya – Lord Howard/Judith
Batanai Mashingaidze – Shakespeare / Margaret Johnson/Hester
Grace Bentley – Lady Helena/ Eve/Dave
Celeste De Freitas – Lady Cordelia/ Alphonso Lanier
Roimata Templeton – Lord Henry Carey / Lady Margaret Clifford
Saraid de Silva – Lady Katherine/ Desdemona
Sarah Houbolt – Priest / Lord Collins/ Flora
Millie Manning – Lady Ann Clifford / Bob
Lucinda Hare – Susan Bertie/ Emilia(O)
Shimna Higgins & Karen Hu as on stage musicians.

Theatre ,

2 hrs 45 mins

A rich, powerful, vivid, insightful and generously shared experience

Review by John Smythe 10th Mar 2020

When better to see Emelia than on International Women’s Day, at a ‘Babes-in Arms’ matinee what’s more. This Miriama McDowell-directed, all-women production of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s successful-in-every-way play is inclusive at every level – except no men are on stage or backstage. In Emelia Bassano’s day (400+ years ago), men drowned out the voices of women. The play’s compellingly credible premise is that William Shakespeare stole Emelia’s words for his plays and all-male productions, and took the creative credit – although in his ‘Dark Lady’ sonnets he did revere her, albeit with some ambivalence.

“Our time is now” is the consequent rallying cry for theatrical and societal change at a time that should be past history – but the quest for true equity continues (e.g. in the screen industries, in top management, in boardrooms … let alone in countless workplaces and homes). The lived experience of women back then – and before and since then – still resonates strongly with women in the 21st century (#MeToo) and many gains made are in danger of being revoked (cf: the unnerving prescience of The Handmaid’s Tale).

Originally commissioned for an 11-show try-out at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2018, Emilia took London by storm and transferred to the West End. Since then Trump’s USA, Brexited UK, Australian politics and the toxic underbelly of our own society and politics prove that this play’s time is undeniably now.

In the pre-set at the Pop-Up Globe, a massive book – The Case Book of Simon Forman by A L Rowse – takes centre stage. Forman was a doctor and astrologer to the ‘stars’ and Rowse is the scholar who identified Emilia Bassano as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. But he labels her a whore so Emelia 3 (a potently grounded Fiona Collins), who reads his words aloud by way of introduction, slams his book shut. This Emelia – at three score plus sixteen years – has different words and ways to tell the story she will now narrate.  

The heart-warming and skin-tingling karanga that brings the full company (14 actors and 2 musicians) to the stage attests to the playwright’s desire for each production to bring its own kaupapa to the staging and McDowell’s capacity to bring it home. The book becomes the corpse of young Emelia’s court musician father, now draped with a korowai while ‘Whakaaria Mai’ sees him off.  

Acushla-Tara Kupe’s innocently self-confident Emilia 1, aged 7, sees no reason why she should not read her own tribute to her father, despite the objections of her Mother, Margaret Johnson (a stern Batanai Mashingaidze). Eight years on, having metamorphosed from child to woman, her very nature is constrained by a corset – applied by the aptly-named Ladies Cordelia (Celeste De Freitas), Helena (Grace Bentley-Tsibuah) and Katherine (Saraid de Silva). This is but one way in which, having grown, Emelia must shrink. Such arts of dancing, listening, smiling and laughing, even when what a man says is dull, are also taught.

Being Italian and most likely of North African descent, Emilia is also ‘othered’ as a woman of colour who cannot simply have come to court from Bishop’s Gate. The Ladies do not want to hear Emelia’s poetry or opinions about what else a woman may be instead of a wife. But the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Henry Carey (Roimata Templeton) is very interested in taking her as his mistress. It is he who facilitates an introduction to Bree Peters’ self-assured, no-nonsense poet and literary patron Mary Sydney. And it’s Mary who introduces Emilia to William Shakespeare, robustly asserted by Batanai Mashingaidze.

Feeling validated – “Keep writing even if no-one wants to read it,” Will advises – Emilia’s output is prolific, until she inevitably finds herself ‘with child’. Lord Henry ensures her virtue is preserved by marrying her off to a distant cousin, Alphonso Lanier (Celeste De Freitas), a poor recorder player who prefers to hang out with his mates, is a poor manager of what little money they have and is wont to go to war in search of a knighthood: a marriage that’s quite convenient to Emilia.  

None of these relationships are black and white; they evolve through time, not least because Emilia – as developed by Morgan Lloyd Malcom from scraps of recorded history – is a positive person who makes the most of the cards she’s been dealt. Not that she is passively compliant. She agrees to the marriage to make her child legitimate but she is “done dancing towards [men]; they will have to dance to me.”

Emelia 1’s banter with one who expects favours from women of colour – “If I be waspish, best beware my sting” (yet to be appropriated by you-know who for The Taming of the Shrew?) – leads to a loving “meeting of true minds” exchange of sonnets between Will and Emilia.

The labour and birth of her first child, Henry, is wonderfully supported by Emilie 2 & 3, and Brie Peters’ South African midwife is a no-nonsense comical gem. We happily form cats’ arse mouths and breathe in unison to alleviate the powerfully manifested agony and facilitate the delivery. Emilia 1’s creative relationship with Will flourishes – there’s an amusing exchange about Love’s Labour’s Lost – despite her own writing being regarded as a hobby and Will’s desire to pour her into his work in order to immortalise his (yes, his) soul.

When Lord Henry dies Emelia is pregnant again and the birth of Odillya proves a bit awkward, timing-wise, given Alphonso’s long absence at the war. But he’s accommodating. And Will’s on a high with the success of Much Ado About Nothing – so nothing comes of her wanting him to read her latest work. While it may be true that women also lose something of themselves on giving birth, nothing compares with the grief of losing the child. The shock, pain and grief Achushla-Tara Kupe embodies and expresses at discovering Odillya lifeless in her bassinette is truly heart-rending.

Anger surfaces as Jennifer Van Epps takes over as Emilia 2, unwilling to “sit quietly” and “be at peace” while she has no voice. When prolific Will scores yet another hit with Othello, in which Desdemona’s maid is named Emelia, she confronts him during an interval. How ironic that when she has spoken freely to a valued friend, he has felt free to use her words without credit or attribution – not least because he claims she is but one of many muses he uses.

Emilia 2’s fury that her own writing skills have not led to her being published or commissioned is counterpointed by the very existence of this play, commissioned by a woman director who was aware of the relatively low-profile Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s work. Meanwhile Shakespeare’s betrayal of Emelia Bassano segues into Othello IV, 3 where Desdemona is reeling at her husband’s accusation of infidelity.

Shakespeare and Emilia 2 watch from different parts of the audience as Saraid de Silva’s Desdemona and Lucinda Hare’s Emelia sing the Barbary maid’s ‘Willow Song’ beautifully. As bewildered Desdemona asks the more worldly-wise and pragmatic Emilia if any woman would ever cheat on their husbands, Emilia 3 alerts us to key moments – and Emilia 2 expresses her fury at Will’s theft of her voice and good name. Indeed, prompted by Emelia 2, she takes over (takes back?) Emilia’s lines:
                           Let husbands know
  Their wives have sense like them; they see, and smell,
  And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
  As husbands have. What is it that they do
  When they change us for others? Is it sport?
  I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
  I think it doth. Is’t frailty that thus errs?
  It is so too. And have not we affections,
  Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
  Then let them use us well; else let them know,
  The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

As the wonderfully versatile musicians – Shimna Higgins and Karen Hu – strike up, Emilia 2 is dragged off the stage she has illegally invaded. Interval allows us space to consolidate our appreciation of the injustice of those times – and the continued injustices in ours – and/or to get a drink or icecream and comment on Chantelle Gerrard’s exquisite costume designs.

Act Two opens with a sisterhood of washer women going about their work at Bankside, as they unite in a rousing rendition of ‘Fare Thee Well Old Joe Brown’ – and Sarah Houbolt gets acrobatic on the washing line (having impressively plied this skill in Act One too).

Emilia 2’s trance-like progress into the river evokes Ophelia but in this case the women – Judith (Rashmi Pilapitiya), Eve (Grace Bentley-Tsibuah), Hester (Batanai Mashingaidze), Mary (Bree Peters) and Flora (Sarah Houbolt) – bring her back and invite her to join them in “a steam up”, cleverly utilising the Globe’s trapdoor. The dichotomy of Emilia 2’s nervous modesty at being stripped down and her pleasure at feeling liberated from constraining garments is but one of the many non-verbal gems of eloquence that enrich this production. Having asked all the right questions, wise counsel is offered.

Emilia 2 seeks and finds sanctuary with Lady Margaret Clifford (Roimata Templeton) and her daughter Lady Anne (Millie Manning) and is treated to a reading from Ovid’s Metamorphoses – made manifest in another of the huge books props and scenery creator Catherine Grealish has created. It is Lady Anne who asks, “Are there any women in Greek myths who don’t get raped or brutally mutilated or killed?” (a point also made in Melita Rawston’s recent Fringe show Cockroach, reviewed last week). No reference is made to Shakespeare’s first play, Titus Andronicus, which some see as his response to Ovid, while others claim it’s a piss-take of Christopher Marlowe’s popular-theatre blood-baths.

Now the women who married for security, including those have been enablers of the status quo, look to Emelia 2 to write to warn others of the moral hypocrisy of entitled men. When her subtly hinting poems enrage the bombastic Sir Thomas Howard (a formidable Rashmi Pilapitiya), Lady Margaret, wronged by her husband, helps Emilia to get them clandestinely printed. But given this dangerous behaviour threatens her husband’s knighthood, Emilia 2 is threatened with being cast out and left destitute or even tried as a witch. And Lady Katherine Howard (Saraid de Silva) sides with her husband!

Alphonso, back from yet another war, claims his bad musicianship renders him unemployable – yet he is appalled at Emilia 2’s plan to teach women with no education “south of the river”. Nevertheless he concedes she is a clever woman.

Emilia 2 inspires her class with ‘Eve’s Apology in Defence of Women’ (where ‘apology’ means a formal defence against an accusation):
  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?
  If one weak woman simply did offend,
  This sin of yours has no excuse nor end.

The writing class scenes are delicious, as is Grace Bentley-Tsibuah’s rendition of sex-worker Eve’s first attempt at a poem, about the “bastard who takes her coin”. Emilia 2 also feels violated when Will publishes sonnets she’d thought were private, for her eyes only – including this (Sonnet 130), imbued with ambivalence:
  My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
  Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
  If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
  If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
  I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
  But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
  And in some perfumes is there more delight
  Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
  I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
  That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
  I grant I never saw a goddess go;
  My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

There is a palpable shudder of recognition in the audience when the women are menaced by marauding men, embodied with terrifying accuracy by Roimata Templeton and Lucinda Hare – and a thrill of pleasure when a giant book becomes the women’s weapon of choice (all credit to fight director Ashlee Fidow).

The uprising of a three-tiered Emelia delivers a powerful message:
“Men, who forgetting they were born of women, nourished of women, and if they were not of the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all; do like vipers deface the wombs wherein they were bred.”  

Even though Lady Katherine wears the blunt-trauma brunt of Lord Howard’s anger she is proud of what Emilia is doing, apologises for trying to stop her and vows to help get her work published. The women writers become shapeshifters and tricksters to get their pamphlets past the censor. But even as Emilia Bassano’s first volume of poems, cleverly entitled Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews) is published, albeit under her married name (and only to be buried for the next four centuries), Eve is burnt as a witch – impactfully staged without the aid of lights or special effects. This only strengthens their resolve to remain forever united:
  O what delight did my weak spirits find
  In those pure parts of her well-framed mind …

Will deigns to predict that one day the time will be right – and we are left to ponder how long it took, and is still taking in some sectors, for women’s voices, held in Emelia 3’s ‘muscle memory’ to at last be set free.

Emelia the play and this superb production of it is a rich, powerful, vivid, insightful and generously shared experience. Billed as the Pop-up Globe’s final production before it’s dismantled, this Emelia must transfer and tour wherever possible. As a contemporary take on the times so ebulliently celebrated in the PuG’s previous productions, it is a massively welcome breath of fresh air.

Indeed it could breathe new life into the plays credited to William Shakespeare if we take on the idea that Emilia Bassano was an even greater force in their creation than this play ventures to suggest. (Recommended further reading: Elizabeth Winkler’s argument for Emilia Bassano’s authorship of plays attributed to William Shakespeare.) 


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