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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Emperor of America

Genre: Comedy, Physical Theatre

Venue: C Too


Low Down

San Francisco, the 1860s and Joshua Norton declares himself the Emperor of America. With expectations of marrying royally he lives on the backs of others and hangs onto the coat tails of acquaintances until he seems to be facing his demise thanks to a crooked editor and Mark Twain.


This is a stomp through history as we see Mark Twain arrive in San Francisco and be delivered into the company of a man the rest of his community think is odd. Joshua Norton has declared himself the Emperor of America. That the rest of the community are odd hardly seems to matter. With various set pieces in saloons, brothels and at high noon we get a wonderful time underscored with impressive live music which allows us an insight into a fascinating tale of an oddly fascinating character.

Breadknives gives us an eclectic mix of nationalities that perform with ease this physical tale of cowboys and the western drive for gold in any of them thar hills. We get set pieces galore that evoke the west and America at a time when all was possible and all chased the impossible dream.

With the cast forming the set and undertaking a number of parts, including one male cast member as a 13 year old prostitute, we have pace aplenty. At times they slow it down with slow motion, just to let us into the idea that they can do slo mo. That they do it with both ease and a certain degree of finesse is quickly understood.

The band are ever present and with an original score that takes their rhythm from the performances we get an integration over which many would go green. As the cast are the set, it too becomes integrated in to the narrative. Where I would be critical is in the text. Some of it I found a little contrived and far from convincing. It is a tale but at times it struggled to find a purpose.

What is absolutely without question is the quality of performance that you get. With a more rounded script this could hit untold heights as the performances are already at that level.