The Empress by Tanika Gupta
Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, 1887. At East London's Tilbury Docks, Rani Das and Abdul Karim, step ashore after the long voyage from India. One has to battle a society who deems her a second-class citizen; the other forges an astonishing entanglement with the ageing Queen Victoria who finds herself enchanted by stories of an India over which she rules, but has never seen. Through narrative, music and song, The Empress blends the true story of Queen Victoria's controversial relationship with her Indian servant and 'Munshi' (teacher), Abdul Karim, with the experiences of Indian ayahs who came to Britain during the 19th century. With private romance being mapped onto world history, the action cuts between the ship and different royal residences, offering bright contrasts as well as surprising affinities. In doing so, the play uncovers remarkable unknown stories of 19th-century Britain and charts the growth of Indian nationalism and the romantic proclivities of one of Britain's most surprising monarchs. The Empress, which premiered at Stratford-upon-Avon's RSC in 2013, is published here as a Methuen Drama Student Edition with commentary and notes by Professor Jane Garnett, Wadham College, University of Oxford, UK.