Home CultureTheatre A Courageous Story; The Empress at Brighton Fringe

A Courageous Story; The Empress at Brighton Fringe

by Sara Darling

Presented by Red Dragonfly Productions, The Empress and Me at Brighton Fringe is based on the courageous true story of Lizzie Yu / Princess Der Ling, who has a beguiling place in history – both as a lady-in-waiting for the formidable Empress Cixi in Victorian China and as a child of a man who had “married beneath him”.

Experience the tale of courageous women

The one-woman show was portrayed by Michelle Yim who flitted through a no-holds-barred monologue of this intriguing woman who faced racism, sexism and outsider syndrome throughout her life, but inadvertently became a representative of women’s independence.

Her father was a Chinese diplomat, who his family disowned because he fell in love with a Eurasian mother and rejected traditions. The couple spawned four children who were encouraged to embrace the liberal European way of life, growing up in France and getting the best education – learning languages and sciences unheard of for Chinese daughters. Michelle as Lizzie recalls fond memories of growing up and the parties and clothes she used to wear.

However, as a teenager in 1903, her family had to return to the Forbidden City in China. At the time, politics were all-consuming, and the whole family was entangled in the politics of the Chinese Court.

Lizzie found herself in the position of Lady in Waiting to the infamous Empress Cixi, who had risen through the courts starting as a low-ranking concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor. Having given birth to his only surviving son, the future Tongzhi Emperor, elevated her status significantly and she became a very powerful woman with politics which were not very popular.

Xixi was fascinated with the cosmopolitan and courageous Lizzie and made her Lady in Waiting, where she was entrusted with lowly tasks and generally being her right-hand woman, although there were protestations. She has soon bestowed the title of Princess, which came with restrictions which were unknown to her – such as an arranged marriage of the Empress’s choice which was the final straw as Lizzie had already found her soulmate and defied this proposal by escaping the entrapments of China and in turn, running away from her family. 

The story is told as if Yim is indeed Lizzie as she alternates between courageous characters with compassion, and although you have to concentrate quite hard on the technicalities of the story, it is an honest expression of the trials of growing up, historical politics and stereotypes.

Interestingly the note we are left with, is that the only support courageous Lizzie received came from her father and after that from her husband, never from her mother or sister. Let’s hope that female empowerment and sisterhood are much more prevalent today.

Find out more about the Red Dragonfly Productions tour here.


  • Sara Darling

    Sara has many years’ experience as a fashion & lifestyle journalist, she Co-Founded 55 Magazine in 2011 and still styles and writes across a number of print and web titles. With a passion for travel, fashion and adventures, writing is her dream job. She can never say no to a glass of fizz, owns more than ten pairs of leather trousers and is obsessed with new exercise fads. Current fave is Bounce.

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