As part of its six-month-long Australia Fest, Australian High Commission to India is bringing Slingby’s celebrated play Emil and the Detectives for Indian children. Adapted for the stage by Adelaide-based playwright Nicki Bloom, Emil and the Detectives is based on the 1929 detective novel written by Erich Kästner. It is an outstanding piece of children’s theatre that tells a fascinating story about the determination of a child. Extracts from an interview with Slingsby’s Artistic Director Andy Packer:
When did you decide to premier the play in India and what made you do so?
Just over a year ago I met with Ruchira Das from Jaipur-based ThinkArts. We shared a lot of goals about wanting to give children around the world access to high quality, sophisticated theatre that tells an emotional and poetic story as well as creating fun time for them. Ruchira invited us to India and we then collaborated with Australia Festival.
Is this the first country where you are staging the play outside Australia?
This is the first time this production has toured out of Australia. Our seasons in India are immediately after a three-week season in Shanghai. Later this year we’ll tour to Scotland and England.
Tell us something more about the play.
Slingsby is particularly interested in bringing ‘coming of age’ or ‘getting of wisdom’ stories to the stage. We find that these stories often have the power of being immediately relatable to our multigenerational audience as well as being philosophical enough to be open to infinite interpretation.
When I read Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives, I was excited by the way Kästner presents a world that’s full of good as well as flawed people. The author presents a complex world where happiness and sadness coexist. This really struck a chord with what we are trying to explore with Slingsby’s work. We too believe that there is darkness in the world but that this darkness serves to make the light moments even brighter and more wonderful.
This adventure story reminds us that is we ever get lost, don’t know what to do, meet someone that does the wrong thing — we can ask for help and people, even those we do not know — will come to our assistance. In Nicki Bloom’s adaptation the central question of the story is “What makes a town a town? What makes it home?” Through the show I hope audiences are reminded of the beauty and power of community.
Are there any specifics you need to keep in mind while creating plays for children?
Children are incredibly sophisticated. They make meaning from image as well as from words. I always remember that I have to be truthful when making theatre for them. Plus, I am also interested in leaving the audience with a sense of hope.
Why are you staging the play only in Delhi and Mumbai, depriving play-lovers from other cities?
We hope that we can return in the future and be able to share our productions with other cities. We are also running workshops and meeting artists and students in Jaipur, Delhi and Mumbai. Watch the play at the Siri Fort Auditorium on Jan 12 at 7pm and Jan 13 at 12pm & 3pm.
About the play
Emil and the Detectives is an outstanding piece of children’s theatre that tells a fascinating story about the determination of a child.