The Empress

The Empress follows characters from all walks of life, interweaving their stories and looking at the personal and the political relationships of India and Britain in the heyday of British colonial rule – Tanika Gupta in The Arts Desk

The Empress begins in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee when Rani Das and Abdul Karim step ashore onto London’s Tilbury Docks after a long voyage from India. Full of hopes and dreams of what lies ahead, they each embark on an extraordinary journey.

Spanning 13 years over the ‘Golden Era’ of Empire, this story blends the experiences of Indian ayahs and lascars who worked on the ships carrying trade goods, the first Indian politician to be elected as a Member of Parliament, and the true story of Queen Victoria’s relationship with her servant and ‘Munshi’ (teacher) Abdul Karim.

The Empress premiered at the Swan Theatre in 2013. In 2019 The Empress was added to the GCSE English Literature curriculum by Pearson Edexcel as part of the Lit in Colour programme.

Representation is at the heart of my play as it tackles themes of migration and belonging. The Empress looks deeply into the lasting legacies of the British Empire and the divisions between the rich and the poor – Tanika Gupta in Broadway World.


The Empress returns to the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from the 7th of July to the 15th of September 2023, and transfers to the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, London from 4 – 28th October 2023. The production will return to the Swan Theatre to complete its run from 1 – 18th November 2023. 

It makes a statement about how the British empire affected Indians in this countryTanika Gupta in the Eastern Eye

Directed by Pooja Ghai, Artistic Director of Tamasha, The Empress will take 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.

You can buy tickets for the Swan Theatre performances here 

You can buy tickets for the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre performances here

⭐⭐⭐⭐ A tale of people traveling across oceans to build a new life in the UK, only to be met with hostility and exploitation, has surely grown more relevant – The Guardian

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ It is definitely worth taking a voyage to see this sensational production of The Empress and its spectacular castWest End Best Friend

⭐⭐⭐⭐ This well-appointed production is ultimately both winning and unexpectedly touchingThe Times

This is a solid, well-built work, elevated by two especially strong performances – Warwickshire World

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Gupta brilliantly weaves plenty of humour into this stark tale of subjugation Birmingham Live

 The Empress is filled with powerful imagery, both striking and sentimentalThe Reviews Hub 

⭐⭐⭐ Gilbreath is enchanting as Victoria, saucy, playful, arrogant, and informedThe Telegraph

⭐⭐⭐ Pooja Ghai delivers this important story in a competent, handsome production WhatsOnStage


The Empress was first performed at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from the 11th of April to the 4th of May 2013. This run was directed by Emma Rice, Artistic Director of Kneehigh Theatre. 

With a strong ensemble and the most beautiful use of voice and instrument, The Empress is a delightful and insightful evening – WhatsOnStage

“This fascinating new theatre production has got ‘make this into a movie’ written all over it.” The Telegraph

“Tanika Gupta’s new RSC play The Empress could be a sequel to the Oscar-winning film Mrs Brown” The Birmingham Mail

The Empress Trailer

An interview with Tanika Gupta