The supposed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets shares her truth

The supposed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets shares her truth
Kaylah Joelle Baker

Three-time Olivier Award-winning stage show EMILIA is gracing the stage of Arts Centre Melbourne for its Australian debut from November 10 to 27.

A West End success, the show has been a consistent and powerfully historic drama with a drive to unapologetically champion all women in the process.

Created amid the “Me Too” era, British playwright of EMILIA, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, said this period of time and the bravery of all the women speaking out fuelled the production into what it was today.

“This show was an absolute joy to make and perform but it also opened up important conversations about whose stories we tell and how we tell them,” Ms Lloyd Malcolm said.

“I wish I could say things have changed for the better since then, but it honestly feels like things have been getting even worse. So, perhaps we need this show, and others like it, even more.”

EMILIA is inspired by 17th century poet and revolutionist Emilia Bassano who is known as one of the first women to be published as a professional poet, and she is often deemed the supposed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets.


Emilia is not only a writer and supposed muse, but also a wife, lover and mother, and she had a drive to have her voice heard as a “woman in a man’s world”.


“This mock historical play by the astonishingly sharp Morgan Lloyd Malcom shows just how vivid and charmingly powerful EMILIA is,” Arts Centre Melbourne director of programming Edwina Lunn said.

EMILIA is elevated to the epitome of a feminist wrecking ball – a commanding voice and a modern hero of our times. She is every one of us.”

A mixing together of comedy and fury, EMILIA is described as a rollicking ride that takes audiences on an exuberant and moving journey through love, loss, identity, ambition, power and rebellion.

In 2020, it won the Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play, Best Costume Design and Best Sound Design, and it is through the drive and collaboration from Arts Centre Melbourne, Essential Theatre and Geelong Arts Centre that it is gracing Melbourne for the first time.

Lead actors Manali Datar, Cessalee Stovall and Lisa Maza, each take on the role of Emilia alongside a team made up entirely of women and non-binary creatives from diverse cultural backgrounds.

It’s a decision that only continues to speak into the drive of the female-led Essential Theatre, which has spent 20 years exploring Shakespeare through a female lens and will be celebrating its 20th anniversary presenting EMILIA.

“We knew we had to present this in Australia. We were immediately inspired and invested so we contacted the playwright, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, within 24 hours,” Essential Theatre producers Amanda LaBonté and Sophie Lampel said.

“We’ll never forget hearing the final speech from EMILIA on a podcast and knowing in our bones we had to bring this extraordinary production to Australia.” •

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