Emil and the Detectives – Traverse Theatre

Can a bunch of kids work together to uncover and outsmart the true criminal?

All alone, young Emil is catching a train to the big city visit to family. When a sum of money is stolen, Emile is quick to follow the alleged thief. But what can one child do, alone in the big city, and battling against a grown-up? Especially a child like Emile who has always ‘flown solo’. Enter Gustav, a local, who rallies a group of friends to help operation ‘Password Emile’.

Based on Erich Kästner’s 1929 children’s novel, adapted for the stage by Nicki Bloom, this production is from Australian theatre company, Slingsby. The entire cast comprises two very skilful and compelling actors, a rousing musical score and a highly inventive set – including miniatures and silhouette – comprising a lot of ‘smoke and mirrors’ effects.

In places it’s wonderfully surreal: a train compartment with a toilet in the seat and a golden tea service overhead; in others it’s minimalist and poignant: line drawings and children’s voices describing the first time they left home alone… And the fact that, in this adaptation, Emil is gender neutral, and the context is stateless, (as opposed to the original German boy in Berlin) is a great touch. As are the moments of audience participation.

The production is a complex and curious mix of the old-fashioned and the ultra modern, and it works very well as a piece of art. The eight year old with me was both entranced and dubious in equal measure – he loved the physical aspects: the train journey, the taxi chase, the ‘pop up’ Hotel Kreid. On the other hand, he wanted a huge cast, with a different actor playing every part.

‘There was lots of imagination, wasn’t there?’ he said, which is absolutely correct – and a compliment (I think!) What it certainly did do, was get him chatting about all different kinds of theatre, which is a definite bonus.

Emil and the Detectives is a story about the importance of friendship; how we don’t always have to rely solely on ourselves, and about the capabilities and resilience of young people – never underestimate their determination!

Aimed at audiences aged eight and upwards.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, www.traverse.co.uk

Part of Imaginate, the Children’s Festival, www.imaginate.org.uk


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *