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ORT Report: Emilia

Emilia was an incredible performance dedicated to exposing the maltreatment of a female poet in 16th century, whilst also promoting female empowerment and the need for true gender equality. From the hilariously funny Alfonzo to the beautiful tragedy of Eve and Lady Kathrine, Emilia boasted an amazing cast who could make you laugh and cry in the space of a single scene with some especially talented singers rounding out a truly impressive group of women. The performance was undeniably a hilarious experience but still approached sensitive issues with dignity and grace, creating an overall desire within the audience to go out and change the world and never repeat the mistakes of the past.

Emilia is a show focusing on the life of Emilia Bassano and her struggles with being both female and a woman of colour in high society England during the 16th century. She is insulted by society for both her race and dream to become a writer, and has several lovers, most notably William Shakespeare, who stole much of her work and passed it off as his own. Bassano also worked with working class women and attempted to teach them to read and write, tragically resulting in a woman being burned at the stake after her writing is discovered. Emilia approaches topics such as racism, sexism, child loss and domestic abuse, showing the heart-breaking realism of these issues and how they have affected women in the past.

Emilia took an interesting approach to set with a minimalistic appeal. There were two large bookcases on stage reinforcing the extensive power of literature throughout the performance as well as the importance of words, especially during the life of Emilia Bassano. Props came in and out of the bookcases creating a fluid and seamless performance as there was little stopping and starting due to the well-practiced transference of props. Lighting also played a huge part in Emilia as the refined use of colourful lighting meant that moments that utilised it had a huge sway over the atmosphere of the performance. One significant usage of this was during the ball scene where blue and purple lighting were used effectively to enhance the mood of the songs that were either being played or sung, for example during the song ‘Toxic’ purple lighting was used, highlighting the inherently sensual but also dangerous message of the music.

Emilia ends with an incredibly empowering speech telling women everywhere that the fight for true equality is not yet over, and that it is important to not forget women like Emilia, but instead bring them to the forefront and show why things have to change. All people deserve the chance to flourish and pursue their dreams regardless of their gender identity. Emilia is truly an incredible show with an important and poignant message, and we will now never forget the struggle of the women who came before us.

Written by Charlotte from Birmingham Ormistion Academy's Year 12 Acting