The Empress and Me

Imperial China, with its exotic riches and intrigues, remains as compelling to audiences today as it did in the early part of the 20th century, when the Princess Der Ling toured her tales of courtly opulence across suburban America.

An immersive snapshot of period theatre well delivered

Born as Lizzie Yu and raised in a western looking household, this solo piece is much more her story than that of the Empress. On first stepping out from behind a Chinese lacquer screen, Michelle Yim, as Lizzie, is everything you would hope for from a period piece. Gorgeously costumed by Laura Bosely, she sparkles in gold and silk under a magnificently impractical headdress and propped up on traditional Manchu platform shoes.

The first part of her tale is therefore subtly disappointing. She gives a very studied and precise delivery to convey to us a fairly turgid lecture, describing life at the Forbidden Palace as a lady in waiting to the Dowager Empress Cixi. We get to hear a lot about the pictures and the porcelain. It is hugely relieving to see her shortly stripping off her robes as we understand that this was her performance persona for her 1920s American Lecture tour. From here on in, we are treated to an engaging manifestation of a fascinating woman who was clearly mistress of her own destiny in defiance of her times and culture. Yim is extremely appealing to watch and to listen to. Despite the fact that this is, essentially, an hour long lesson on Chinese History, she wrings some big emotional moments from it as she shows us the human relationships in her grand setting. Light in romantic love, but heavily laden with the ties and trials of love for one's sisters and parents, the piece skilfully blends the domestic with the headline events of the day.

Ross Ericson's writing has produced a voice that feels authentic but there are no surprises at any point. The humour is easily foreseen and the descriptions of Lotus flowers and doll-like faces are well worn. It is only when you get to the end that you realise you have been waiting for a story to develop that never quite does. I would very happily have watched Yim for another hour, but perhaps it is the limitation of biography to lack neat resolutions. An immersive snapshot of period theatre well delivered.

Reviews by Julia French

Rialto Theatre

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Sweet Werks 1

Antigone Alone

Latest Music Bar

Quiz Night: The Musical

Sweet Dukebox

The O.S. Map Fan Club

The Warren: The Hat



Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Lizzie Yu, daughter of a Chinese Diplomat and Eurasian mother, was raised in France to be every bit the Victorian Lady, but when her father is recalled home she suddenly finds herself living in the Forbidden City, entangled in the politics of the Chinese Court and lady in waiting to the infamous Empress Cixi. The amazing true story of the Princess Der Ling who, following her unique experience of life at the Manchu court and close relationship with the Empress Dowager, became an international celebrity. From the team behind 'The Unknown Soldier' and 'Gratiano'.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £46.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £39.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets