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by Peter Nichols

Dates 12, 13, 14 November 1998 Tickets:
Venue: Chelsea Theatre, Worlds End Place, Kings Road, London SW10


Emperor Tao-Kuan - Carl Gilbey-McKenzie
Queen Victoria - Jo Ayres
Jack - Phil Matcham
Randy (a stud) - Danny Davis and Phil Cox
Sally - Grace Hinde
Cherry (a mare) - Beth Ford and Sarah Canham
Lady Dodo - Daryl Hutchings
Dick - Emma Stratton
Obadiah Upward - Andy Hamilton
Lie Tse-Tsi - Rob Buck
Chorus - Sarah Canham, Jean Challender, Beth Ford, Alexis Thompson, Stuart Metcalfe, Anthony Worssam


Directed by Ian Challender
Produced by Jean Challender
Stage Managed by Peter Finn

Musical Director - Anthony Worssam
Keyboard - Richard Leigh

Construction Manager - Mark Higgins
Sound by Paul Hucker
Lighting by John Stickland and Phil Herrey

Photography by Peter Finn
Costumes - Jean Challender
Props - Nikki Williams
Artwork by Rob Buck


Opium was well known by the ancient civilisations for its medicinal and dream inducing qualities. The seed heads of the opium poppy (Papaver somnifera) emit a thick latex which, when dried hard, can be eaten, drunk, smoked or simply sniffed while being burnt. The invention of an alcoholic tincture of opium (laudanum) has been attributed to the 16th century physician Paracelsus, and this was the most popular form of taking the drug until well into this century.

During the 17th century the smoking of opium-tobacco mixtures (madak) is believed to have begun in Java, spreading to Formosa, Fukien and the South China Coast. In 1689 Engelberg Kaempher was the first European to record the existence of opium dens in the East and the widespread use of the drug had become a serious problem when the Chinese Emperor Yung Chen decreed the smoking of opium illegal in 1729.

In the middle of the 18th century, the East India Company won control of the opium growing districts of Bengal and Bilhar, in eastern India. In 1757 Sirajud-daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, raised an army to free Bengal from foreign oppression. The rebellion was totally crushed by the soldiers of the East India Company, under Robert Clive, at the Battle of Plassey. The British Empire now dominated opium production and trade out of Calcutta and by 1780 had established an opium receiving depot in Hong Kong. This prompted the Chinese Emperor to issue another edict prohibiting the consumption of opium. In reality, the Chinese officials were happy to issue prohibitory edicts with one hand whilst taking bribes with the other to allow continued importation.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Canton and Macao had become the major centres for the illegal importation of opium into China, and in 1839 the Manchu (Ching) Empire declared war upon the British imperialists - the Opium War had begun.

After three years of bitter fighting the war ended with the Treaty of Canton, in which China ceded Hong Kong and other ports to British trade monopolies. The Chinese opium trade revived for the rest of the 19th century resulting in millions of Chinese addicts and a great deal of wealth for British traders.

In the latter part of the 19th century opium became a recreational drug of the European middle classes. Poets, artists and writers experimented with it; Coleridge, Edgar Allen Poe, Baudelaire, Cocteau and De Quincey all produced work while under its influence and inadvertently popularisd the drug. Pillars of society such as William Wilberforce were openly regular users, but the social acceptance of opium was perhaps nowhere better illustrated than by its usage amongst popular heroes of fiction, such as Sherlock Holmes.

Britain's victory over China in 1842 would have repercussions in the West more than a century later when the illicit Chinese drug trade moved into Europe, backed by supplies which would not have existed except for the cynical Opium War.

This year in England, a seven year old child handed in his mother's supply of heroin to his school. Heroin in derived from opium.

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