Queen Victoria’s last love

Beatie Edney (Queen Victoria) and                         Tony Jayawardena  (Abdul Karim)

First published in German on 28/04/2013 under http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/queen-victorias-letzte-liebe/

The Empress”, production at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

An exotic servant and an old Queen, from this unlikely combination grew a great friendship at the English Court, towards the end of the 19th century. This friendship nearly led to Queen Victoria, who since 1876 had also held the title “Empress of India”, being incapacitated. From their story, associated with the fortunes of immigrants, nannies, sailors who were, then already, present in high numbers in England, Tanika Gupta created an enchanting narrative about love, understanding and self-respect.

Ray Panthaki (Hari) and Anneika Rose (Rani Das)

Ray Panthaki (Hari) and Anneika Rose (Rani Das)

Rani, a young Indian ayah (nanny), adorably portrayed by Anneika Rose, travels to London, together with a British family. On the boat, she gets to know Hari (played charmingly cute by Ray Panthaki), a sailor, who she teaches how to read. On the same journey: Abdul Karim (Tony Jayawardena), a gift to the Queen from the Indian Viceroy, Dadabhai Naoroji (Vincent Ebrahim), an Indian politician who later is going to be elected into British Parliament as the first non-European ever, and a young Gandhi in his educational years (Ankur Bahl). At their arrival in London, Rani is dismissed by her employers. Hari wants to help her find accommodation, but she doesn’t trust his intentions and flees into the nightly streets of the city. In the Palace, Queen Victoria (absolutely gorgeous: Beatie Edney) receives her new servant, who is soon promoted to Munshi (teacher) and becomes a close confidant to the profoundly lonesome old lady.

The story of Rani’s development in this foreign world, Hari’s insurrection against inhumane working conditions, as well as Abdul Karim’s and Victoria’s deep understanding for each other was turned into a theatrical event of the finest order, in a fascinating production by director Emma Rice.

The music by Stu Barker and Sheema Mukherjee creates an acoustic context that will remain with the audience for days. Besides his part as Gandhi, Ankur Bahl also appears in two smaller parts; he can take the highest pride, however, in the choreography designed and led by him, that culminates in a terrific dancing show for the Queen.
Apart from Anneika Rose‘s prime performance as Rani, the second female lead, Beatie Edney as Queen Victoria leaves an ongoingly moving impression, in particular thanks to her girlish majestic giggles. Fantastically cheeky and down-to-earth: Tamzin Griffin, as Lascar Sally, the landlady of the sailors’ inn, and Rina Fatania as Firoza, Rani’s illusion-free and caring friend. An ensemble that is a credit to this term, and a play, one would love to watch more than once.

The Empress will be on stage in Stratford up to 4th May, 2013.
Is there hope for this production to be shown in London and other cities?

Photos by Steve Tanner

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