The Empress

18 January 2013

The Empress

Directed by Emma Rice

Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon: 11 April – 4 May 2013

Press Night: Wednesday 17 April, 7pm

Box Office: 0844 800 1110,

World premiere of Tanika Gupta's new play.

Part of the final season programmed by Michael Boyd as outgoing Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Offering a fascinating glimpse into the world and character of Queen Victoria, The Empress, is a brand new play by Tanika Gupta MBE. It explores the intimate relationship between the ageing monarch and her Indian attendant, Abdul Karim, alongside the remarkable unknown stories of the Indian Ayahs living and working in nineteenth century London.

Directed by Artistic Director of Kneehigh, Emma Rice, the play will receive its world premiere at The Swan Theatre as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) 2013 Summer Season.

Tanika Gupta makes her RSC debut with The Empress, while Rice returns to the RSC following her production of Cymbeline in 2006 as part of the Complete Works Festival and Don John in 2009 in association with the RSC and Bristol Old Vic. The Empress also sees Tanika and Emma working together again following their successful collaboration on 2012's production of Wah! Wah! Girls.

In the role of Queen Victoria having last appeared in the RSC's London production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at The Ambassadors Theatre in 1986 is Beatie Edney. Also returning to the RSC are Ankur Bahl (Gandhi); Tamzin Griffin (Lascar Sally); Kristin Hutchinson (Lady Sarah); Tony Jayawardena (Abdul Karim); Emily Mytton (Georgina); Anneika Rose (Rani Das) and Ed Woodall (Sir John Oakham).They are joined by Rina Fatania (Firoza); Japjit Kaur (Ayah); Dominic Lawton (Lascar); Aki Omoshaybi (Serang) and Ray Panthaki (Hari).

Emma Rice, director, said: 'The Empress is astonishing. My breath was taken away when I first turned the pages of Tanika Gupta's gripping script. I gasped at the images, sounds, smells and colours of a time I thought I knew. Facts were re-drawn, re-written and passions ignited. Here is an untold history that reaches out and drags us to a new understanding of Victoria, her empire and her legacy.

'This will be like no other costume drama you have ever seen. Throw away the history books you were fed at school and open your hearts and minds to an England they tried to hide, tried to ignore and even tried to burn. Important, contemporary and bloody romantic, I cannot wait to start realising this exhilarating, political and radical story. Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy and brilliant voyage!'

Tanika Gupta, said on writing The Empress; 'The inspiration for my play came from a remarkable but simple black and white photograph in a book Ayahs and Lascars by Rozina Vishram. The photo was of a group of Asian Ayahs – or nannies all sat around a Victorian drawing room, dressed in starched black uniforms. I was intrigued by these women and wanted to know more about what they were doing in nineteenth century London. Apparently, many of them had been brought over from 'the Colonies' to look after English children and then dumped by their employers, leaving them destitute. Reading around the period, I was amazed to discover Queen Victoria's friendship with her Indian man servant – Abdul Karim and how that friendship nearly caused a constitutional crisis.'

The play is designed by Lez Brotherston with lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and music composed by Stuart Barker and Sheema Mukherjee. The sound design is by Jonathan Ruddick and Puppetry by Sarah Wright.

For further information, please contact Amy Belson on 01789 412622 or or Philippa Harland on 020 7845 0512 or

For press ticket requests and regional requests, please contact Dean Asker on 01789 412660 or
Date of issue: Friday 18 January 2013

Notes to Editors:

  • Production images will be available to download free of charge in due course by registering on
  • Twitter hashtag: #RSCEmpress
  • The RSC Ensemble is generously supported by THE GATSBY CHARITABLE FOUNDATION and THE KOVNER FOUNDATION
  • The RSC Literary Department is generously supported by THE DRUE HEINZ TRUST

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