From July 13 to 17, embark on an on-stage adventure at QPAC with ‘Emil and the Detectives,’ brought to you by acclaimed Adelaide-based Slingsby Theatre Company.
Based on Erich Kästner’s 1929 novella, this is a story about courage and self-discovery, the value of friendships, taking risks, and the empowerment of young people told through projections, shadow puppets and more. We chatted to Tim Overton – A.K.A., Bowler Hat Man – ahead of the production.
In your own words, can you tell us what ‘Emil and the Detectives’ is about?
Emil and the Detectives is about a child lost in a big world. It’s about coming together to solve a problem and save the day. It’s about community and togetherness.
This story was originally written in the 1920s – have you adapted it for a modern audience? If so, how?
Our adaptation is only slightly different from the original story, we’ve tried to stay true to the book as much as possible because it is both very familiar and incredibly strange. We loved the weirdness of the novel and very much enjoyed putting that on stage.
Which aspects of the original novella have stayed?
Well, we’ve got most of The Detectives in there, with their original names and similar job titles. We have, of course, the ‘Man in the Bowler Hat’ in all his kooky glory. We have tried to keep an emotional journey similar to the book too.
Why is this story so well suited to children?
I remember, quite vividly, a rather difficult few years when I was younger, trying to understand where I fit into the world. My coming-of-age story wasn’t quite as exciting and adventurous as Emil’s, but I identify with feeling lost and alone as they do. I think this is a feeling we all felt at one point or another and something the book, and our play, are investigating.
How do you use elements like puppetry, projections and theatrical style to bring the story to life?
Slingsby has a long, rich history of using puppetry, projections and unique theatrical styling to tell stories and I think has been so incredibly successful because it bends our eyes and mind around ideas in a very particular way. We are about to look out into the world through a slightly distorted lens, which helps us to acknowledge the strangeness of the ordinary world and the normal-ness of our thoughts and feelings inside it. It flips the world on its head to help us make sense of it.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges and benefits of being in a two-person production?
In this production in particular the challenges and benefits are one in the same, one actor plays Emil, and the other (me!) plays everyone else. It is an enormous joy to be trusted with so many characters, and the challenge of making them all different and fun and interesting is one I enjoy a lot. At the same time, it is very fast paced and exhausting too.
What do you enjoy most about this style of theatre?
I LOVE speaking directly to the audience and making that connection. To look the audience in the eyes, communicate directly and make sure they know that this show really couldn’t happen without them there. It works particularly well in this show, where togetherness is key.
What do you think audiences will love most about Emil and the Detectives?
I think it is one of the most stylish shows I’ve worked on. Not just in terms of costumes, (although they are particularly fashionable!) but, also in its design and choreography. It seems to roll along effortlessly and the images grow and flash and slide along with great precision.
What will adults in particular enjoy about the show?
It truly is a show for all ages. One element that I’ve enjoyed is the time the show takes to sit on a knife’s edge of being understanding and critical of the behaviours of children. I think it’s important to always honour kids and meet them exactly where they are at, but also, not take them too seriously. This show does that with a lovely kind sensibility.
Why is it a must-see production for families?
It’s a non-stop rollercoaster ride, from the moment the go button is pressed (literally) to the final spectacular images. We have loved shaping this piece into an all-round entertaining and thoughtful experience for everyone in the group. It’s funny and it’s heartfelt and it’s slick.
We can’t wait to see you there, and would love to hear afterwards what you thought!