Review: Emil and the Detectives

Slingsby Productions presents Emil and the Detectives

By Narelle Wood

Emil and The Detectives brings to life the 1929 German children’s classic by the same name written by Erich Kästner, adapted for the stage by Nick Bloom. Part detective mystery and part tale in friendship, the story follows Emil’s adventures from his small town to the big city, as he tries to catch a thief and the friends he meets along the way.

The adventure begins at Newtown as Emil (Danielle Catanzaritti) is given money from her mother to take to her grandmother. Emil embarks on a train journey and meets a peculiar man, Max Grundeis, in a bowler hat. Emil wakes up on the train to find both Grundeis and his money gone. Terrified of what his mother will say, Emil chases the man through the city streets and on the way meets a number of other children and engages their help to catch the thief. Nathan O’Keefe – who plays all the other characters including Grundeis and the mother – helps narrate the story as it goes along.

The story is aimed at age 7 and above, but it does seem as though it would be better suited for a slightly older audience. O’Keefe is great as all the different characters; the nuanced differences between each of the characters was brilliant, but occasionally the transitions from character to character were lost on the young person I was with. I found the storyline itself was full of exposition, which was good, but I was left wanting some more action. That said, the staging and production value (designers Wendy Todd and Ailsa Paterson and lighting designer Chris Petridis) was amazing, featuring miniatures, lighting and shadow effects, digital animations and hidden shelves in amongst the set. The costumes and music are reminiscent of something out of a Sherlock Holmes’ mystery, which helps to add to the detective-adventure genre feel.

Emil and the Detectives is a lovely story with some great morals and good feels as Emil learns to ask for help and what it means to be a part of a small town community.

Emil and the Detectives was performed 8 September at the Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton. See here for more information about the 2018 MLIVE program.