Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress (2006)

Presented by Singapore Repertory Theatre
Esplanade Theatre
8 -30 Sep 2006

Kate Carl, an American artist, is invited to paint the portrait of the Empress of China, Tzu Hsi. When she arrives in China she hears many rumours about the Empress. She also meets George Morrison, an English journalist. He tells her not to be intimidated. Kate begins the portrait and while she paints the Empress tells her about her life...

The Empress, known as Yehenara as a young girl, was a concubine in the Forbidden City. She desperately wanted to be chosen by the Emperor to be his escort. And she was, indeed, chosen. After three months she became pregnant. She was then taken to the Summer Palace where she gave birth to a son, Tung Chih. This was the Emperor's first son and very important to the dynasty. However, as was the custom, the baby was taken away from Yehenara to be brought up by the court. Prince Tun, the Emperor's brother, was devastated by the birth of Tung Chih as he had plans to take the throne for himself. However, whilst still at the Summer Palace, the British attacked and destroyed the Palace. The Royal party fled to Jahol. But the Emperor was much weakened and lay dying. Yehenara knew that if he died without naming Tung Chih as his heir Prince Tun would claim the throne and her son's life and her own life would be in grave danger. She found her son and rushed to the Emperor's chamber. No one could stop her while she was carrying the Emperor's son. With his last breath the Emperor named Tung Chih as his successor and Yehenara as Regent.

But Tung Chih grew up to be a rebellious young man. He was tempted by Prince Tuan, the son of Prince Tun, to go to the brothels. Indulging his new-found freedom he became ill with syphilis. Yehenara was helpless to do anything but wipe his feverish brow with her handkerchief as he died. Again Prince Tun saw a chance for power but again was thwarted as Yehenara quickly named her nephew, Kuang Hsu, as the next Emperor.

All this time Kate has been writing to Morrison about all these events. He is amazed that the Empress is being so open and notes that the stories the Empress has told Kate contradict all the rumours he has heard. The Empress continues her story...

She tells Kate that Kuang Hsu became an ambitious Emperor, determined to reform China. But this lead to the Boxer rebellion and China was crippled by the internal conflict. Despite everything Yehenara has tried to do, she is surrounded by loss and failure.

Kate meets with Morrison. She is falling in love and Morrison continues to be fascinated by everything she tells him about the Empress. The day arrives when Kate is to show the Empress the completed portrait. But the Empress is furious...

What has happened? What has become of her story? Where will it end? And is this the end of China itself?

Cast: Kit Chan, Richard Chia, George Chan, Kaylen Chan, Presslee Chng, Hal Fowler, Sheila Francisco, Luke Kwek, Jovan Lee, Hossan Leong, Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie, Leigh McDonald, Joel Ng, Ng Kit Chong, Dillon Ong, Oliver Pang, R J Rosales, Russell Marino Soh, Celine Rosa Tan, Sebastian Tan.

Ensemble: Kaylen Chan, Richard Chia, Gordon Choy, Joanna Dong, Farhan Hassan, Edric Hsu, Luke Kwek, Cedric Lim, Andrew Lua,, Dunstan Ong, Juliet Pang, Oliver Pang, Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie, Jacqueline Pereira, Candice de Rozario, Seong Hui Xuan, Celine Rosa Tan and , Eleanor Tan.

Creative Team:
Music by: Dick Lee
Book by: Stephen Clark and Dick Lee
Lyrics by: Stephen Clark
Idea developed by: Stephen Clark, Dick Lee and Steven Dexter
Director:, Steven Dexter
Music Director: Sydney Tan
Music Arranger: Bang Wenfu
Choreographer: Nick Winston
Original Staging: George Chan
Set Designer: Francis O'Connor
Costume Designer: Yang Derong
Lighting Designer: Chris Ellis
Sound Designer: Mike Walker
Vocal Coach: Amanda Colliver
Hair & Accessories Designer: Ashley Lim
Make-up Designer: Elaine Lee

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