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/

Valentina’s Galaxy @ Assembly Roxy

Video rights: Frozen Charlotte Productions

Produced by Frozen Charlotte

Presented by Imaginate and Edinburgh International Science Festival

Intended for viewers aged around two years old, Valentina’s Galaxy speaks in particular to girls in the audience. Inspired by the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first black woman in space, Mae C. Jemison, Frozen Charlotte’s production introduces kids to the universe with immersive detail and visual splendour.

Astrid is celebrating her birthday when a letter arrives from Nasa. Astrid has more or less given up on her dreams of being an astronaut, but with some gentle encouragement, she is reminded of why this was once her goal. This protaganist is relatable, falling out of love with her childhood passion, but also a tad two-dimensional.

As Astrid, Melanie Jordan engages with the children in the audience, becoming more involved as time progresses. There’s a sense that the production team had a little too much faith in well-behaved viewers – furthermore, it feels a little like information’s being flung at the audience, rather than letting us unravel the story ourselves.

With inspiration as poignant as the first female astronauts, much is done to commemorate them. The old banger of a telly in the corner serves to show footage of Tereshkova’s launch and time in space. The set is right out of a 1960s catalogue, but much of the lighting by Gerron Stewart is utilised for tricks and locale changes – kitchen instruments and cupboards double as spacecraft consoles and a plethora of buttons, and a screen in place of a window makes for fluid trasitions from kitchen domesticity to the darkness of space. 

What lets it down slightly is that the design and intent overshadows the story and delivery. Valentina’s Galaxy as a performance is methodical and somewhat constrained, never quite living up to the wackiness of its set.  

A blanket of celestial astonishment canopies the theatre at the end of the production. If nothing onstage has moved you thus far, the sparks of passion on the faces of all those beneath the stars is an embodiment of hope. Valentina’s Galaxy pays homage to the first women in space, while encouraging the next generation of stargazers. This is theatre looking not only to the past but well into the future; it’s worth seeing for its rich, magical visuals, even if it could do with some recrafting. 

Review originaly published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/valentina-s-galaxy-assembly-roxy-edinburgh

Imaginate: https://www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/whats-on/valentinas-galaxy/