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Review: The Emu War, New Wimbledon Studio

I think at this point most people have some concept or vague idea that Australia officially fought a war against emus and lost. Which is funny. Most jokes aren't funny if it's the same joke for one hour. So, I was a bit apprehensive. But oh boy, was The Emu War more than just jokes about losing to emus. The plot, brilliantly crafted by writer Lotte Pearl, starts with a brief exposition: after the Great War, many veterans were put on farms and struggled due to government subsidies that were promised but never came. Greg (portrayed by Violet Morris) and…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

Emus: 1, Australia: 0, Theatre: Decisive Victory!

I think at this point most people have some concept or vague idea that Australia officially fought a war against emus and lost. Which is funny. Most jokes aren’t funny if it’s the same joke for one hour. So, I was a bit apprehensive. But oh boy, was The Emu War more than just jokes about losing to emus.

The plot, brilliantly crafted by writer Lotte Pearl, starts with a brief exposition: after the Great War, many veterans were put on farms and struggled due to government subsidies that were promised but never came. Greg (portrayed by Violet Morris) and Steve (Tom Brace-Jenking) complain about the emus, leading to a story about the government, led by Sir George (Pearl) and Major Meredith (Lili Mohammad), trying to shoot birds. And failing. But it’s not just that. There’s queer romance, wartime tragedy, desertion to the side of the emus, it’s funny and engaging throughout – and surprisingly touching. It also feels like an acid trip at points. People fall in love with emus. Kinda? Spiritually? I hope?

The writing is stellar. Witty, engaging, with many surreal moments that keep the audience on their toes. The script touches on a surprising number of themes – queer love, acceptance, environmentalism, trauma, the lasting impact of war, and the sometimes absurd nature of bureaucracy, governments, public opinion and military operations.

The musical setup is simple but effective, featuring a keyboard, guitar, and a cajon played by a performer in a kind of terrifying emu hat. Combined with the vocals, it works out great. The score, composed by Pearl and Toby Little, perfectly complements the action on stage. The choreography deserves special mention, with dances that are both fun and thematically spot-on. The performers integrate simple but effective moves with hilarious emu-inspired gestures, creating visual comedy that enhances the musical numbers without overwhelming them. 

Standout performances come from across the cast. Steve delivers a gut-wrenching song mourning his lost love William. This moment anchors the production’s more serious themes. In contrast, Sir George provides the comedic highlight with an absolutely show-stopping villain song. As blood-red lights bathe the stage, Pearl’s performance during the emu extermination anthem is nothing short of brilliant. Major Meredith is a similarly blood thirsty comedic force, particularly during a hilarious ode to emu-based warfare that had the audience in stitches.

The set design is nice, simple, and effective, allowing the performances and story to take center stage. The costume choices are stellar, with the inspired decision to represent the emus as sock puppets adding an extra layer of charm and humour.

Director Jessie Millson has done an excellent job of bringing all these elements together into a cohesive and thoroughly entertaining show. It manages to be both hilarious and surprisingly deep, using its admittedly ridiculous premise to explore deeper themes while never losing its sense of fun. 

The Emu War is a delightful surprise. It takes a quirky historical footnote and transforms it into a rich, funny, and touching piece of theatre/ fever dream. While the emus may have won the war, this production is a clear victory for innovative and engaging storytelling.


Directed by: Jessie Millson
Written by: Lotte Pearl

Produced by: Lotte Pearl

Composed by: Lotte Pearl, Toby Little

Musical Director: Toby Little

The Emu War continues on tour across the UK, including a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Further information and booking can be found here.

About Andrei-Alexandru Mihail

Andrei, a lifelong theatre enthusiast, has been a regular in the audience since his childhood days in Constanta, where he frequented the theatre weekly. Holding an MSc in Biodiversity, he is deeply fascinated by the intersection of the arts and environmental science, exploring how creative expression can help us understand and address ecological challenges and broader societal issues. His day job is Residence Life Coordinator, which gives him plenty of spare time to write reviews. He enjoys cats and reading, and took an indefinite leave of absence from writing. Although he once braved the stage himself, performing before an audience of 300, he concluded that his talents are better suited to critiquing rather than acting, for both his and the audience's sake.