July 27, 2017

Watching the detectives a sheer delight in low-fi staging

Emil and the Detectives
by Erich Kastner
Adapted for the stage by Nicki Bloom
Level 5 Myer Centre, Adelaide
July 23. Tickets: $16.50 – $35.
Bookings :
Public performances July 29 and August 5.
Duration 60 minutes. For ages 7 and over.

For ten years, Slingsby, under the meticulous direction of its founder, Andy Packer, has been making captivating theatre for young audiences. Packer specialises, as he says, in “coming of age” or “getting of wisdom” stories and his latest production is no exception. Emil and the Detectives, written in 1929 and originally set in Berlin, broke new ground in liberating children’s fiction.

When the schoolboy Emil travels by train to visit his grandmother, he is robbed on the train and arrives in the big city, alone and desperate. Fortunately he meets Gustav and his motley band of child detectives, and finds the courage and resources to track down and confront his dastardly nemesis, the master thief in the bowler hat, Mr Grundeis.

Nicki Bloom’s crisp and sprightly adaptation is the ideal springboard for Packer’s signature picture book theatre. Wendy Todd’s beautifully intricate design in muted browns and green is matched by Ailsa Paterson’s 1930-ish costumes; Geoff Cobham’s chiaroscuro lighting is masterful and Quincy Grant’s score is splendid. The use of cut-out silhouettes (made by audience members before the show) brings a Wes Anderson low-fi charm, and the robbery scene in the train carriage, with Chris Petridis’s video projections, and animations by Luku Kukuku, steals the show.

The performances are pitch perfect: Elizabeth Hay is understated and unfazed as the intrepid Emil, and Tim Overton is a blaze of versatility as the Narrator, Grundeis and – everybody else. Watching these detectives is a theatrical delight.

“Watching the detectives a sheer delight in low-fi staging”
The Australian, July 25, 2017, p.14

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