Emil & The Detectives – Traverse Theatre

Image contribution: Andy Rasheed

by Erich Kästner, adapted for the stage by Nicki Bloom

Who’s in the mood for an adventure? Adapted by Nicki Bloom from Erich Kästner’s 1929 novella, this production of Emil & The Detectives receives the full treatment from Slingsby Productions, displaying their signature style of intimate storytelling with cinematic undertones.

Every child dreams of adventure, and for us country kids, the greatest experience was a jaunt to the big city. For Emil, a trip to the capital offers excitement, intriguing characters, but also exposure to the harshness of greed. When a slick thief, armed with a silver tongue and bowler hat, steals her money, Emil will stop at nothing to reclaim what’s rightfully hers.

This is children’s theatre at its most sublime, with a diverse range of narrative methods that keep the audience engaged and entertained throughout. Emil & The Detectives has no issue keeping its audience transfixed on the wonders onstage – it uses lighting, audience interaction, soundscapes and illustrations to keep the show both magical and pacy. Playing with the dualities of light and dark, miniature and grand, Wendy Todd’s design work is reminiscent of the cinematic tones of Wes Anderson. 

Don’t be fooled: this hasn’t been made exclusively for the young ones. Never resorting to cheap, hidden gags for mums and dads, its ingenuity and solid performances will appeal to the imagination of any spectator. Elizabeth Hay is masterful: while she makes an adorable Emil, capturing childlike innocence, she also conveys a striking, guttural determination.

An entire company of performers, however, would struggle to convey a cast of characters as well as Tim Overton, who plays the production’s statue, narrator, Emil’s mother and the thief. His energy is astounding, and the dedication to each character – ensuring there are enough variations in his performances to separate them – is commendable.

The show’s use of illustration is also effective. Some are the works of visiting children; many are animations by the talented Luku Kukuku. These, in tandem with Andy Ellis’ graphics, make Emil & The Detectives a piece of visual art in its own right. A remarkable show that isn’t just for children, Emil & The Detectives is for anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned story, told with warmth, heart and sheer inventive skill. 

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/emil-the-detectives-traverse-theatre-edinburgh

Production Information: https://www.slingsby.net.au/production/emil-and-the-detectives/


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