The Empress and Me

The Empress and Me is based on the true story of Lizzie Yu (Princess) Der Ling, who spent time as a lady in waiting to the Empress Cixi in Victorian China. We discover through an observational monologue, Michelle Yim's portrayal of a woman who not only discovered she never really fitted into the Chinese Royal Court, but also faced racism. Racism today is still rife, but if you lived in Victorian times, it was a completely different story. Yim sensitively explores these subjects and the idea of being classed as a foreigner in your own country through the Princess' eyes.

Detailed, subtle and thought provoking with subjects that are still relevant today

There is a lot of information to digest in this piece, but it all neatly fits together as Lizzy Yu Der Ling's story is told. We discover that she was born into a family that never was going to fit in with Chinese family traditions in the first place. Her father was a Chinese diplomat who believed that both sexes should be equally educated and treated the same, so he encouraged everyone to speak English as much as possible, made sure that none of the siblings were separated so they were with the same sex and encouraged them to have the same education with no division as was traditionally practiced. The key moment to note is how much Der Ling is influenced by her father's unconventional values is when he observes that he 'feels like a foreigner in his own country'. It is revealed that he did everything in his power to change China to no avail, but his daughter inherited his fighting spirit as she moved forward.

Like The Ballad of Mulan, Yim puts a lot of thought and detail into the character, as well as the set and costume. This time, we see her in traditional Royal Court attire and elaborate headwear as she looks after the Empress and develops a close relationship with her. Later we gradually see her change to more simplistic and stylish clothes of the period as she indicates with ease through a suggestion of props such as the contraversial book Der Ling wrote whilst in the States called Old Buddha, revealing the reality about the Empress, to a more traditional wooden chair indicating the harsher traditions of the past.

Yim seems to be a little more tentative here, but as her performance progresses, she becomes more settled; especially when she touches on moments that give you a moment to reflect. She mentions a more terrifying time for the family when war broke out back home and her father was warned not to return until further notice. Being in Paris at the time learning to dance under Isadora Duncan's watchful eye, it became clear that wherever they were, they were under a lot of scrutiny for being different and Yim portrays her journey with care and insightfulness. The fear portrayed is raw and not to be dismissed.

The Empress and Me is detailed, subtle and thought provoking with subjects that are still relevant today.

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Reviews by Sascha Cooper

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The Blurb

Based on the amazing true story of the Princess Der Ling who, as the daughter of a Chinese Diplomat and Eurasian mother, was raised in France to be every bit the Victorian Lady only to find herself, when her father is recalled home, living in the Forbidden City and entangled in the politics of the Chinese Court as lady-in-waiting to the infamous Empress Cixi. Just who is Lizzie Yu? Does she really know? A story of one woman's search for identity in an ever-changing world. From the teams behind ‘The Ballad of Mulan’ and ‘The Unforgettable Anna May Wong’.

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