TDF STAGES: How Do You Dramatize the Downfall of an Autocrat?

By Gerard Raymond

The audience never sees His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie in The Emperor, Colin Teevan’s stage adaptation of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s eponymous book. But you get a vivid picture of the 20th-century Ethiopian autocrat and his court through memories shared by his eleven loyal servants, all portrayed by Olivier-winning actress Kathryn Hunter.

In the production, which originated at London’s Young Vic and is now running at Theatre for a New Audience, Hunter nimbly plays a motley cast of characters, including His Majesty’s pillow holder, the imperial purse bearer and the man who cleaned up whenever the Emperor’s lapdog peed — sometimes on important guests.