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Edward the Emu

Edward the Emu
Stage play: Eva Di Cesare
Director: Eva Di Cesare
Monkey Baa Theatre
January 10-21, 2023

The award-winning Monkey Baa’s inventive, loving, and hilarious production of Edward the Emu combines two classic Australian children’s picture books by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clements. In bringing the two well-loved stories together in performance Eva Di Cesare implements gender equality by making a sassy Edwina the narrator of the emu’s adventures and giving her an equal share in the inspirational discovery that “the best thing you can be is you”.

When we first meet Edward, his pushy character is evident as he lounges on the sofa and sprawls over a desk, so his desire to be top animal doesn’t come as a surprise. Taking his cue from the preferences of zoo visitors he swims with the seals, he roars with the lions and shimmies with the snakes, but eventually returns to his enclosure having decided “that the emu is by far the best thing at the zoo”. There he meets the self-assured Edwina and with her finds love and belonging.

However, the  audacious Edwina has her challenges also. Once she had laid her eggs, and Edward is sitting on them – she thinks it is her responsibility is to get a job. She applies to be a ballet dancer and a chimney sweep but her attempts are met with the same response, “You must be joking”. She tries to be a waiter but asked to serve up eggs beats a horrified retreat to her own nest. She sees that the right fit for her is caring for Edward by sharing the task of hatching the family.

These simple stories are structured on the three tasks model but offer plenty of opportunities to the Monkey Baa team for imaginative presentation and some very funny antics. Edward and Edwina are extremely impressive examples of puppet creation and fascinate their young – and older – audience. While their fluffy coat of soft feathers, long necks, bluish heads, long strong legs, and the slightly crazed look in their eyes brilliantly replicate the real-life emu, their engaging characters are brought to life by the skilful puppeteers.

It is strange but true that while the puppeteers are manipulating the head or complex legs of the emus as Edward cavorts in the water or Edwina does jetés, their human presence is muted. Equally true, is that we come to feel the humanity of the puppets as they struggle to find their place in their world.

The puppeteers also double as the three zookeepers Gary (Paul Grabovac), Sue (Tina Jackson) and Colin (Mathew Lee) who provide educational facts – the list of what emus eat is a memorable moment – as well the kind of physical playfulness and one-upmanship among themselves that children enjoy. Called upon to be many things, a lion with the aid of a box cushion and a pillow, a snake by ingeniously rolling up a mat, a seal with the help of a bolster, passengers on a rocking bus, they sustain the performance with their exuberant energy.

Clearly, from the excited comments, many of the children know the stories and take joy in both anticipation and recognition. They know the animals that the ambitious Edward will choose, and they know that the number of eggs laid by Edwina is ten. They know that Edward isn’t really lost, and that Edwina travels by bus. Their eager but not quite sotto voce participation in the re-imagining of the emus’ adventures is a testimony to the remarkable puppet creation of Bryony Anderson and the storytelling skills of the Monkey Baa team.

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