Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: Writing EmiliaMorgan Lloyd Malcolm is a…

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: Writing Emilia

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is a playwright and screenwriter – her newest play, Emilia was written specifically for the Globe Theatre.

A story of the often beguiling and always fascinating Emilia Bassano – whom many consider to have been a muse and inspiration for Shakespeare – Emilia opens on 10 August 2018.

When Michelle Terry asked me to write this play she didn’t just send me off to scribble away on my own; she opened up a treasure box of resources that I guess only places like the Globe can give a writer.  The first thing we both recognised from the point of commission was that it would be a very quick turnaround for a new play that would have a cast of thirteen, plus a band, and would be premiered on the Globe Theatre stage less than a year after I signed on the dotted line. Because of this, Michelle essentially said ‘whatever you need, we will let you have’, which are the best eight words a writer could hear (other than ‘we love the script, here’s your royalty cheque’, of course).  

The first part of the process involved speaking to Bill Barclay (the Globe’s Director of Music who will be composing) and getting a steer on his style, his tastes and the history of music. I also met with Dr Will Tosh and Dr Farah Karim-Cooper who are two of the incredible academics that work at the Globe and who, with their team, have since our first meeting been providing me with essays, research material and amazing insight into the world Emilia Bassano would have been living in.

This isn’t the first historical piece I’ve worked with, but it’s the most detailed in terms of recognising that this is a period of time that many people know and love and I can’t just busk it. The context around Shakespeare and his possible involvement in Emilia’s life is also a layer that I have had to make sure I know enough about before writing. I have also been working with them on such things as gender politics, feminism and race in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which have a huge influence on my play, but again add another layer. This is by far the most complex play I’ve tried to write but, as a result, it’s so much fun.

Nicole Charles (who will direct the play) and I met in December for a couple of days of chewing over the research we had been given already and reading books we had both sourced that were relevant to what we are trying to achieve and essentially make sure we are on the same page. I must say that as a writer this is a gorgeous way to work – to be with my director from the very beginning so that we are both working towards a common goal and she’s not playing catch-up a few drafts down the line is a massive gift. The fact that Michelle commissioned this with no script in existence means that everyone has started from scratch on this and therefore I’ve been able to really draw on people’s opinions, research and ideas before sitting down to write.

Talking of writing – that came at the start of February! Nicole and I had another couple of days together researching and talking in January before I sat down and wrote the first draft in two weeks. This isn’t everyone’s method but it is mine (particularly since having kids – carving out dedicated time to write is tricky and I will address this in my next blog, I think). I like to think about something, research it, talk to people for a bit and then sit down and write in a massive flurry. In fact, for the first of those two weeks I think I only wrote about twenty pages as I kept finding more things I wanted to read!  So that final push was full-on but really exciting because I knew what I wanted it to be and that by my deadline it was going to exist. It’s a bit like labour when you write like this; except you have an end point you know it has to be done by. Having had two babies it’s not necessarily as physically painful, but it’s just as draining and full of the ups and downs and lack of confidence and surges of power and happiness.  

So on 12 February my new babe Emilia was born, and I had a first draft I could send to them with an email full of ‘I know that it’s still pretty sketchy in parts and I’ve not fleshed the second half out enough but it’s a start’ kind of sentences. It’s always terrifying sending first drafts, mostly because of the massive silence you have for a short while after, as you wait for people to read it. Thankfully Nicole, Michelle and the Globe’s Literary Manager, Jessica Lusk, powered through it pretty quickly and sent me their notes straight away. Thankfully it wasn’t the disaster I had convinced myself it was and even more thankfully they were very enthusiastic.

Now onto the hard bit. Redrafting…

Words: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm