Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner, adapted by Katie Hims

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BBC Radio 4, 17 October 2009
Kastner's charming children's classic from 1931 tells of Emil (Joshua Summers), a youngster living with his mother, who travels to Berlin by train to visit relatives. On the way he meets Grundeis (Ewan Hooper) who befriends him, but ends up by stealing Emil's money. Apparently bereft of anything - friends, finances, or knowledge of city customs - Emil has the good fortune to meet up with some local children, and together they pursue Grundeis, eventually forcing him to confess his guilt to the police and hand the money back. Emil finally gets to see his relatives, while his mother comes to join him in Berlin, presumably to live happily ever after.
Jessica Dromgoole's production treated the story as a rite-of-passage tale, as Emil gradually acquired self-reliance through his Berlin adventures. He began the story as a provincial greenhorn ripe for exploitation by the crafty Grundeis; by the end he had become someone who, although welcoming his mother's parental protection, had acquired a knowledge of how to take care of himself. Dromgoole also showed how the children's pursuit of Grundeis game them the chance to act out their imaginative fantasies. Having spend their formative years reading pulp novels, they understood precisely the elements of detection: criminals could only be caught if everyone knew their specific roles in the campaign. This might have seemed like a childish game to adults; for the children the pursuit became deadly serious - especially when they cornered Grundeis in a bank and forced him to confess. The only child excluded from this game was Pony (Agnes Bateman) who was expected to fulfil her appointed role as homemaker and comforter for those in need. Clearly the children's fantasies did not prompt them to question established gender roles.
When Emil first arrived in Berlin, he had been caught short on a trolley-bus, with no money for the fare; a kindly stranger intervened and paid on Emil's behalf. That stranger turned out to be Kastner himself (Bruce Alexander). This narrative strategy not only rendered the story more immediate (it now seemed like an autobiography rather than a work of fiction), but it showed how concerned Kastner was for his youthful protagonists. Despite several reversals, none of them came to any harm.