Emil and the Detectives was one of my favourite childhood books. Erich Kastner’s story of young Emil Tischbein and his journey from his humdrum German hometown to the seething metropolis of 1920s Berlin captured my imagination from the start.
So when the National Theatre announced that it had chosen the tale as its Christmas production this year I booked tickets straight away, even though it was the height of summer and Christmas seemed an awfully long way off.
I’ve been looking forward to it for months and yesterday we battled through the wind and the rain to get to the South Bank in time for the matinee. My anticipation knew no bounds, especially as the National Theatre’s previous family productions have included War Horse and Coram Boy (no pressure there then).
So what was our verdict? Well, the staging was completely stunning, complete with ticking clocks, marching city commuters and ladders descending into dark, dank sewers. The choreography was brilliant and the baddy who steals Emil’s money was so convincing that he got a resounding boo from the audience at the end of the show.
But entertaining though it was, Emil and the Detectives doesn’t match War Horse. The show is great fun and the young performers act their hearts out but their voices aren’t quite strong enough for the vast Olivier stage. Talk about the chance of a lifetime though. The youngsters got their showbiz break when the National Theatre ran a series of workshops in four London schools. The team was looking for 150 nine to 13-year-olds to play Emil’s “detectives.” The successful applicants were then divided into three teams of 50 – Team Drew, Team Marple and Team Sherlock – who alternate their performances. Many of them are making their debut on the professional stage and judging by their enthusiasm and exuberance they are having the time of their lives.