Lyric Hammersmith Theatre presents the Royal Shakespeare Company production of ‘The Empress’
This autumn the Royal Shakespeare Company brings their acclaimed play ‘The Empress’ by Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Artistic Associate Tanika Gupta to the Lyric for four weeks only from 4 October.
Transferring directly from the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and directed by Pooja Ghai, Artistic Director of Tamasha, this new production of The Empress takes you from the rugged gangways of Tilbury docks to the grandeur of Queen Victoria’s Palace, whilst unveiling the long and embedded culture of British Asian history.
The Empress was written by Tanika Gupta. The production is directed by Pooja Ghai with Design by Rosa Maggiora. Lighting is by Matt Haskins, Music and Sound by Ben and Max Ringham, Movement by Wayne Parsons, Dramaturgy by Pippa Hill, Fights and Intimacy by Rachel Bown- Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown, and Casting by Matthew Dewsbury CDG and Martin Poile.
Rachel O’Riordan, Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre said: “We’re so excited to be welcoming the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Empress by our very own Artistic Associate, Tanika Gupta and directed by Pooja Ghai. This is an exciting time for West London, we are so pleased to host the RSC here in Hammersmith for this sweeping story through British Indian history.”
The Empress is another impressive play in Tanika Gupta’s ever-growing canon of work. Tanika’s acclaimed adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House opened my first season here at the Lyric in 2019. We are honoured to be the London home of this epic production that unveils the long and embedded culture of British Asian history in nineteenth century Britain and we cannot wait for audiences to see this story come to life in our beautiful Victorian Frank Matcham Theatre.”
Spanning 13 years over the ‘Golden Era’ of Empire, this story blends the experiences of Indian ayahs (nursemaids) and lascars (sailors) who worked on the ships carrying trade goods, alongside the first Indian politician to be elected as a Member of Parliament.
It is 1887, the year Queen Victoria celebrates her Golden Jubilee.
Sixteen year old Rani Das, ayah (nursemaid) to an English family arrives at Tilbury docks after a long voyage from India, to start a new life in Britain. On the boat, Rani befriends a lascar (sailor), Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian politician, and Abdul Karim, a royal servant destined to serve the Queen. Full of hopes and dreams of what lies ahead, they each embark on an extraordinary journey.
Will their expectations come true or will they have to forge a different path in their new country?
Tanya Katyal plays Rani Das. Her theatre credits include When Mountains Meet at Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow. Television credits include Netflix’s Eternally Confused and Eager for Love.
Raj Bajaj plays Abdul Karim. Raj’s previous RSC credits include Tamburlaine, Tartuffe and Much Ado About Nothing. Other recent theatre credits include Wildfire Road (Sheffield Crucible), Tartuffe (Birmingham Rep), Hobson’s Choice (Royal Exchange Manchester), Rapunzel (Stratford East), Lions & Tigers, The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare’s Globe), East is East (Northern Stage/Nottingham Playhouse) and Bend It Like Beckham (Phoenix Theatre).
Alexandra Gilbreath plays Queen Victoria. She is an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where her credits include; The Provoked Wife, The Rover, Shakespeare Live!, A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night for which she received an Olivier award nomination-for Best Supporting Actress, Merry Wives – The Musical, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tamer Tamed, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale, Cyrano de Bergerac, Ghosts, The Country Wife, Love’s Labour’s Lost. Other theatre includes; The Sugar Syndrome at the Orange Tree; The Fever Syndrome, Mother Christmas at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs; The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory; Dessert at Southwark Playhouse; The Wars of the Roses, Hayfever at the Rose Kingston; The Invisibles at the Bush; A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Hong Kong Philharmonic; The Village Bike, Disappeared at the Royal Court; Shallow Slumber, God’s Dice at Soho Theatre; Othello at Sheffield Crucible; and Playhouse Creatures at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Screen credits include; Becoming Elizabeth, EastEnders, Father Brown, Casualty, WPC56, In Search of Shakespeare, Rites of Passage, Inspector George Gently, The Commander, The Waltz King, Happiness, The Project, Trial and Retribution, Midsomer Murders, Absolute Power, Life Begins, The Bill, Monarch of the Glen, Out of Hours, A Wing and a Prayer, The Art of Love, Lair, Warhol, Dead Babies, The All Together, A Hundred Streets and Tulip Fever.
Completing the company are: Francesca Faridany (Lady Sarah), Aaron Gill (Hari), Anyebe Godwin (Serang/Lascar), Miriam Grace Edwards (Charlotte/Susan), Oliver Hembrough (Lord John Oakham/William/Painter), Avita Jay (Firoza), Tom Milligan (Freddie/Ensemble), Sarah Moyle (Mary/Susan Matthews), Chris Nayak (Jinnah/Singh), Lauren Patel (Ruby/Asha), Simon Rivers (Dadabhai Naoroji), Anish Roy (Gandhi/Lascar), Nicola Stephenson (Lascar Sally), Premi Tamang (Lascar/Ayah), and Joe Usher (Lascar).
Tanika Gupta has written over 25 stage plays that have been produced in major theatres across the UK. Her critically acclaimed adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House set in colonial Calcutta launched Rachel O’Riordan’s first season as Artistic Director of the Lyric in 2019. She was awarded an MBE for Services to Drama and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She is an Artistic Associate at the Lyric and was recently announced as one of two new Writers in Residence at the Bush Theatre in 2023.
Pooja Ghai is Artistic Director of Tamasha, and artistic associate at Kali. Prior to this she was Associate Director at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Her most recent directing credits include Hakawatis and Lions and Tigers at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; Lotus Beauty at Hampstead Theatre; Seriously Annoying by Mark Thomas for Tin Cat Productions, 2020 at Tara Theatre, Approaching Empty at the Kiln (Tamasha/Kiln/Live Theatre) and Rapunzel, Counting Stars and House of in Between at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Awards include Best Director for Lions and Tigers at the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture and Theatre Awards (ACTA) in 2017. Pooja is a Dramaturg for Voxed, Meeting, Out Late, Vestige and It’s Not Me.
The play-text was recently added to the GCSE drama syllabus following a campaign aided by participation from the RSC’s Youth Advisory Board and is now one of four new plays by writers of the global majority to better reflect the diversity of playwriting in the UK. The text was introduced by AQA in 2022, the largest examination board in England. Tanika’s 2019 production of A Doll’s House was previously added to the national curriculum by Pearson in 2021 alongside works by Bola Agbaje, In-Sook Chappell and Roy Williams.
In response to The Empress, Young Lyric will create a series of teacher CPD sessions for secondary schools across West London which examines Gupta’s text and curriculum links. The production will be accompanied with a complimentary teacher’s guide exploring The Empress as a set text on the AQA Drama curriculum, this guide will be created in collaboration with RSC Education.