Emil and the Detectives @ National Theatre

The National’s family Christmas shows have always been a pretty big deal in the past, and honestly, Emil and the Detectives is no exception. Where to begin explaining the excitement that was projected throughout this performance? Firstly, I have to mention the spectacular performances from all the children that were present on the stage. The horrible cliché “never work with children or animals” goes completely out of the window in this show, because all of the kids (and animals) were absolutely brilliant.

Photo: National Theatre

Based on the Children’s novel by Erich Kästner, the play is about Emil (played by Daniel Patten when I saw it) who is off to visit his grandmother who lives in the city. But on the train there, he is robbed by Mr Snow (Stuart McQuarrie), a respectable looking adult. Not wanting to upset his mother by losing her savings, Emil goes after Mr Snow, and bumps into Toots (played by Samuel Fava on the day), who decides to help him, and is joined by all the children in the neighbourhood along the way.  Fava’s Artful Dodger-like performance was very enjoyable to watch, and his character was instantly likeable when he appeared on stage. Even though he plays the villain, McQuarrie’s adds hints of humour to Mr Snow, which the adults in the audience can recognise. Plus I did find it hard to dislike him because he looked like Poirot and I just wanted to hug him.

Photo: National Theatre

The play looks great. Bijan Sheibani’s direction allows the bare stage to be transformed from scene to scene into a visually stimulating spectacle. The countryside Emil is from is engulfed in Mrs Tischbein’s hair salon, the earthiness captured with the colour green throughout the beginning scene. This contrasts the darkness and the grey of the city, where the adult ensemble work frantically to capture the fast-paced environment. At this point it is the projections designed by 59 Productions that takeover the stage. They capture the city’s modern and futuristic elements with bright lights and vertical designs, highlighting the tall buildings that are “tied to the sky.”

Photo: National Theatre

The play’s excitement and warmth appeals a lot to the children in the audience, especially when the kids on stage run through the auditorium chasing Mr Snow. I couldn’t help but get excited when that happened too because it was just fun being involved in the action. Even though it is a children’s show, it does have something for the adults too. The hustle and bustle of corporate 21st Century London is mirrored in the play’s 1920s Berlin setting, and the adults are reminded to pay attention to children and give them more credit, which they do right at the end of the performance when they’re invited to help Emil.

There was a massive smile on my face from the beginning to the end of this show, and I’m pretty sure everyone in the auditorium felt exactly the same way.


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