Bolton School Senior Girls

Girls Stage Story of Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady'

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Despite the challenges that the pandemic has posed to both rehearsal and performance, the show has gone on at Bolton School Girls’ Division. For the first three months of 2021, pupils in Years 10 and 11 produced a rehearsed reading of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s ground-breaking, Olivier Award-winning play Emilia. In April, they shared this with audiences over Zoom.

Emilia tells the tale of Emilia Bassano. Though much of her story has been erased from history, Emilia is thought to be the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets. However, she was so much more than just the Bard’s muse and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play seeks to bring to light her untold story. A woman of North African descent, Emilia transcended the prejudices of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Though she was betrayed, abandoned and spurned by those she loved, and grieved the loss of a child, she dedicated herself to caring for the most vulnerable in society and produced a prodigious amount of verse to champion the cause of women at a time when it was not fashionable to do so.

In their introduction to Act One, performed live as part of a Zoom webinar, the girls said: ‘Our exploration of this play has led us to wonder whether times have changed all that much. There can be no doubt that some of the sentiments expressed here resonate with us today. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play has troubled, challenged and inspired us in equal measure.’

The cast also faced the challenge of putting together a performance under the restrictions of Covid. Though they had a brief spell in school before Christmas, much of the rehearsal process was interrupted by lockdown and had to take place online. When pupils finally returned to school, a combination of in-person and Zoom rehearsals became essential. The cast tackled unforeseen absences with aplomb; Maryam and Shriya stepped in as impromptu understudies to ensure plans were realised in a timely and effective manner.

The girls never lost their enthusiasm and were willing to go the extra mile to share Emilia’s story.

The performance was streamed online across two nights: the first act aired on the day of Shakespeare’s birth and death, 23 April, with the second act following the day after.

The cast and crew in School are particularly grateful to Mr Harris, a Technical Director and Online Specialist who volunteered his services, expertise and countless hours to arrange the recordings of the performance so that parents and friends could enjoy Emilia despite Covid restrictions.

Watch the full cast list on Bolton School TV.

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