The Emperor of America

This fast-paced piece of Wild West-inspired physical theatre is an innovative and extremely entertaining romp, including gorgeous girls in voluminous outfits and suave men with elaborate moustaches. Tongue in cheek, irreverent and more than a bit naughty at times, it’s packed with drawling southern accents, vintage costumes and a live band on double bass, drums and violin. It’s fabulous to watch. Just don’t ask what on earth it’s about.

As well as being imaginative, physically dexterous and unafraid to take risks they avoid the trap of appearing too self-consciously earnest.

The story, told largely through mime, is impossible to follow, the actors moving in a whirl of colour and lightning quick character changes. But in physical theatre (like opera or contemporary dance) plot is always more of a guideline to help the audience put the various visual feats into context – clever precise mime, gymnastics and punchlines that rely just as much on a well-placed gesture as a witty one liner.

For those who feel the need, however, a synopsis would be as follows: set in San Francisco when it was the capital of the Wild West. Cue lawlessness, disorder, swinging saloon bar doors, pistols at dawn, debauchery, corsets and stockings, as well as a central character who crowns himself Emperor of America and generally makes life worse for all around him before meeting a sticky end.

All these various elements are created flawlessly by the cast who work with minimal props to create well-timed visual montages (arms swinging open for the saloon doors etc) and have fizzing onstage chemistry. There is a huge variety of musical accompaniment as well, everything from whimsical folk to rambunctious honky tonk.

The company, Breadknives, are very accomplished. As well as being imaginative, physically dexterous and unafraid to take risks they avoid the trap of appearing too self-consciously earnest. When not in the midst of the action, all have a similar expression that is an incongruous mixture of boredom and surprise, it’s very comic.

Inevitably, this kind of abstract theatre is a hard sell to wary audiences – most will find it impossible to follow – but their sense of humour makes it accessible in different ways and they deserve more than the handful they had on the night I visited.

Reviews by Lettie Mckie

Udderbelly Festival

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel

The Vaults

Skin A Cat

The Vaults


Orange Tree Theatre

The Rolling Stone

Charing Cross Theatre


London Theatre Workshop

Through The Mill


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Fuelled by the virtuosity of circus and the flair of cabaret, Breadknives bring us the city that broke all the rules: 1860s San Francisco, the Wildest West. At the height of Victorian innovation, in the ruins of the California gold rush, discover larger-than-life characters lifted from the pages of history: ruthless killers, glamorous divas, renegade writers. Meet Joshua Norton, a tramp who declared himself Emperor, and the whole city who played along. Shoot-outs, seductions and wild shenanigans with a Lecoq-trained gang of desperadoes. Rapid-fire physical theatre. 'Infectious eccentricity, limitless joy' **** (

Most Popular See More

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets