Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

16/03/2023 - 18/03/2023

Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki 2023

Production Details

By Erich Kästner
Adapted for the stage by Nicki Bloom

Presented by Slingsby

A super-sleuth romp for the whole family! Join the adventures of young Emil and a gang of streetwise city kids as they team up to outsmart a dastardly thief.

Emil’s caught the train to the big city and is on a mission to deliver her mum’s hard-earned savings to Grandma. But what to do when a man in a bowler hat swindles her and disappears with all the money?

Adapting the classic children’s novel that redefined the whole kids-versus-adults genre, acclaimed family theatre experts Slingsby use the magic of lighting and shadows to spin a yarn rich with intrigue, quick wits and true grit. They say, “never underestimate the determination of a child”: Emil and the Detectives will have you cheering at every moment these youngsters triumph over tricksters – and then some.

“Emil and the Detectives delights, intrigues and astonishes its audience… an outstanding piece of children’s theatre… [and] an experience to be savoured by all.” — InDaily

“For 10 years, Singsby… has been making captivating theatre for young audiences… Emil and the Detectives is no exception… [it’s] a theatrical delight.” — The Australian

Rangatira, Q Theatre
Thu 16 – Sat 18 March 2023
+ 3pm Sat 18 March
$19 – $55

Buy now  Recommended for ages 8+
Contains lighting effects, smoke/haze effects Slingsby is supported by the Government of South Australia through Arts South Australia, and by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Starring: Elizabeth Hay and Rory Walker

Director: Andy Packer
Playwright: Nicki Bloom
Composer and Sound Design: Quincy Grant
Designer: Wendy Todd
Costume Designer: Ailsa Paterson
Lighting Designer: Geoff Cobham
Technical Design: Chris Petridis
Animation Director: Luku Trembath
Photo credit: Andy Rasheed

Theatre , Family ,

1hr 10 mins (no interval)

Innovative world-building creates a satisfying blend of action and visual effects

Review by Leigh Sykes 17th Mar 2023

On its website, acclaimed family theatre experts Slingsby invite us to ‘journey in wonder’, a mission which they approach through the creation of rich theatrical experiences for family audiences. Appearing in their repertoire since 2018, Emil and the Detectives now reaches Auckland and takes us on a wonderful journey through the adventures of young Emil and a gang of streetwise city kids as they team up to outsmart a dastardly thief.

The stage is set when the audience enters with a large sign warning, ‘Do Not Press’ set above a large red button attached to a fluorescent yellow cable that trails off stage. Soon, a gentleman in a suit (Rory Walker) enters and our journey into the world of the show begins. Without dialogue he impresses upon us the dangers of pressing the big red button, and yet soon he is inviting audience members to do just that. This is the first example of drawing young members of the audience into the action, and sets the show in motion.

From here, we are introduced to Emil (Elizabeth Hay) and her Mum (Walker again, who plays all of the other characters in the show, switching roles swiftly with the help of vocal and visual aids). Emil tells us that she doesn’t really get on with the other kids in the town and prefers to be alone – a statement that sets up one of the key ideas in the show.

The world and aesthetic of the show are carefully crafted in this first sequence, as we learn about Emil’s home, Newtown. This a lovely sequence, where lights are used in a beautifully evocative way to map out the town and all the major points of interest within it. Hay and Walker share information as we are drawn further into Newtown and Emil’s family, while Designer Wendy Todd and Lighting Designer Geoff Cobham combine to create moments of memorable visual imagery.

The world building is precise and innovative, using lights, shadows and silhouettes to familiarise us with information about the town and Emil’s place in it. This section does take some time, and although the materials used are quite simple (cardboard figures, spotlights, shadows and the precise choreographed movements of Hay and Walker) the effect on the young audience is palpable. They seem enthralled by it, and there is no fidgeting or rustling that I can see.

Once we have established Emil’s background, she is entrusted with a very important errand: to take Mother’s hard-earned money to Grandmother in the big city. This is where the adventure, and the visual storytelling style, really take off.

The train journey is delightfully rendered, and it is here that Emil meets the bowler hatted man (Walker) whose dastardly actions in stealing her money drive the rest of the story. Once in the city, a mixture of projections, shadow-play, lighting effects and models (small and large) are innovatively and effectively used to craft a range of cityscapes and environments including the train station, a tram (my favourite effect, with Walker creating an engagingly abrupt conductor), a café and eventually a hotel.

At first, Emil is alone in her quest, following the bowler hatted man and feeling out of place in this big city, but soon she is fortunate enough to attract a group children who are keen to help her. These characters are rendered from simple drawings, and are used to great effect to populate the stage and the world. Once this band of detectives is on board, audience interaction is introduced once again, with one young audience member getting to play a pivotal (and hopefully highly memorable for them) role in the action.

From here, there are sequences of pace and movement, where many items are used for multiple purposes (a café seat becomes something else entirely), enabling the action to move quickly as Emil follows the bowler-hatted man through the city. There are also some quieter moments, where the young detectives share stories that feel authentic and very affecting. Throughout these sequences, sound and music (designed by Quincy Grant) are used effectively to create atmosphere and enhance the action.

There are one or two moments where effects are somewhat lost from where I am sitting, which may be due to a lack of familiarity with the Rangatira space. However, overall, the way the world of the show is created is very entertaining and effective.

Ultimately, Emil is able to track down the bowler-hatted man and show great courage in confronting him. This courage is made possible by the support of the group of detectives, and Emil finds that having friends is far better than being alone.

The theme of children outsmarting the adults is enhanced by the visual storytelling style of the show, making for a satisfying blend of action and visual effects. Simple ideas (a line of paper characters) are used to great effect, leaving the audience with a host of memorable images to enjoy. This is a visually innovative show, and the children in the audience are enchanted by the way the world is made. Hay and Walker are a strong team who perform with the right blend of physicality and authenticity, and the key idea of teamwork paying off is deftly told. Emil also learns that a town is more than buildings and town squares – it is people and their connections to one another: and that is a message that continues to resonate.


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