The Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) production of The Empress, by Tanika Gupta has opened in the Swan Theatre for the summer. 

The play is set to offer a 'fresh perspective on Britain’s relationship with its imperial past' and how it continues to shape the country’s identity today. 

Set in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the play tells the story of the sixteen-year-old Rani Das, ayah (nursemaid) to an English family, who 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), an Indian politician and a royal servant destined to serve the Queen. Full of hopes and dreams of what lies ahead, they each embark on an extraordinary journey.

Spanning a period of 13 years over the ‘Golden Era’ of Empire, this epic drama takes audiences 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 which continues to shape our society today.

RSC Acting Artistic Director, Erica Whyman said: “The RSC has always believed it essential to support and celebrate the living writers who can expose new ways of seeing our collective history and conjure a brave new world that we don’t yet understand. 

"The Empress by Tanika Gupta – now on the GCSE syllabus - presents an extraordinary friendship and a beautiful love story, whilst forensically exposing the blithe injustice of empire.”

The Empress first premiered in the Swan Theatre in 2013 and was directed by Emma Rice. 

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 Hammersmith Theatre in 2019.

Making her RSC debut, Tanya Katyal plays Rani Das whilst Raj Bajaj plays Abdul Karim. 

Alexandra Gilbreath plays Queen Victoria and completing the cast  are: Francesca Faridany (Lady Sarah), Aaron Gill (Hari), Anyebe Godwin (Serang/Lascar), Miriam Grace Edwards (Charlotte/Georgina), Oliver Hembrough (Sir John Oakham/William), Avita Jay (Firoza), Tom Milligan (Freddie), 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).

Asian Image:

Picture: Ellie Kurttze 

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, and Casting by Matthew Dewsbury CDG and Martin Poile.

The Empress is running in the Swan Theatre until Friday 15 September 2023 before transferring to the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in London from Wednesday 4 October to Saturday 28 October. 

The production will then return to the Swan Theatre from Wednesday 1 November to Saturday 18 November 2023.

For tickets and bookings CLICK HERE