The National Theatre’s Emil And The Detectives is a mixed bag

10 Dec


Erich Kästner’s much-loved 1929 adventure story about a young boy who is robbed on his way to see his grandmother in Berlin has been adapted as the National Theatre’s seasonal family show.

In order to retrieve the filched 140 marks, Emil enlists the help of a crew of fellow ‘detectives’ – including bicycling cousin Pony the Hat and the horn-holding Toots – to find dumpling-loving crook Mr Snow.

It’s a classic tale of youthful camaraderie and street-smart innocence ultimately triumphant – but the real star of Bijan Sheibani’s eye-grabbing production is the sinister, long-shadowed city rather than the feisty, fresh-faced kids.

Designer Bunny Christie’s architecturally towering, financially down-at-heel Berlin is a high-velocity whirl of tilted Expressionist lines. Street lamps skate around the cinematically framed stage – this is a theatre show that declares a deep love for celluloid, evoking the Berlin of Fritz Lang’s early films and the Viennese sewers…

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