Tag Archives: Studio Ghibli

“Spirited Away” at the London Coliseum

Based on the phenomenally successful Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli film, London audiences now have the chance to see this stage adaptation, direct from Japan. The show has the air of an event and Fans are sure to love it.

The production looks and sounds fantastic. Jon Bausor’s constantly moving set design is superb, likewise the lighting from Jiro Katsushiba. The costumes by Sachiko Nakahara could be on display in a museum. With every aspect of design, details thrill.

There’s a big orchestra for Joe Hisaishi’s score – a soundtrack I’m sure many would listen to at home. And a lot of dance: the choreography by Shigehiro Ide (also credited with staging) is both ambitious and otherworldly. Most notable is a brilliant performance from Hikaru Yamano as ‘No-Face’. What the cast achieve, given how many of them are covered and wearing masks, is impressive.

Spirited Away is vast and technically ambitious. The puppetry (Toby Olié) runs through nearly every scene and is strong.  The result is that every movement is planned (including some witty plays with the music) and John Caird’s direction has to have the utmost precision. The use of projections is, thankfully, limited; the show works as a live event – but that level of control does mean little sense of spontaneity.

Caird is also the show’s adapter and has, again, done well. This is a simple story of a young girl called Chihiro who finds herself trapped in a magical world. Events are fast paced. There is some urgency about the fate of her parents, transformed into pigs by a witch called Yubaba. But this journey is one of discovery rather than a quest: Chihiro follows instructions rather than working things out. She is a passive heroine. Ironically, the role is high energy, barely off stage and running around all the time (four performers are listed – Kanna Hashimoto, Mone Kamishiraishi, Rina Kawaei and Momoko Fukuchi – giving an idea of how demanding the role is).

While the story is entertaining, with little sense of peril, it is hard to see much drama. Likewise, the romance fails to convince and is underexplored – Chihiro’s potential boyfriend being a magical figure who can turn into a dragon doesn’t help. These may be memorable characters but they lack psychological insight. And the humour is limited. 

If the style has shortcomings, they all reflect Studio Ghibli’s popular and acclaimed work. The show has wider appeal than another hit from the same source, My Neighbour Totoro. But there’s still a sense Spirited Away is primarily for kids. Clearly it crosses over – box office figures tell you that. But it is the world created, rather than what goes on it that interests.

Until 24 August 2024


Photo by Johan Persson

“My Neighbour Totoro” at the Barbican Theatre

This smash hit production, winner of six Olivier Awards last year, is back. It’s easy to appreciate why it’s packing them in as the staging is superb. Retaining the feel of its Japanese source material, the show is just that little bit different for London. And the atmosphere is great. Suitable for theatregoers from the age of six, hearing the audience’s delight is almost as much fun as what’s on stage.

An adaptation of the legendary Studio Ghibli’s animation, the story is very simple: two young sisters move to the country when their mother becomes ill (don’t worry – nothing that bad happens). In their new home, they meet a spirit of the woods who comes to comfort and help them… even if he is noisy and smells like mud.

While there are more sad moments that you might expect, the story impresses with its light touch – both the characters and the audience are enchanted by the titular creature. Mei Mac and Ami Okumura Jones give energetic performances as the girls and get a lot of laughs. And they can deliver when it comes to big emotions – having a toddler temper tantrum is a hard act to pull off!

Director Phelim McDermott brings it all the stage with fantastic style. The puppets, designed and directed by Basil Twist, are very big and look very cuddly. It’s possible you might be tempted to buy a toy version helpfully on sale at the theatre. The sets are also fantastic. As well as an appropriate paper-inspired aesthetic, the family home opens up and splits apart to great effect. The house itself can be considered part of the incredible movement direction for the show, credited to You-Ri Yamanaka. An impressive troupe makes the magic happen. Operating as stagehands as well as puppeteers, they are cast as spirits with touches of humour and they provide remarkable personality (considering they’re mostly dressed in black with their faces covered). They don’t compete with the props or puppetry – they complement them.

It’s the pace of the show that sets it apart. There are plenty of slower moments when we’re invited just to enjoy the spectacle. Time is allowed to appreciate Jessica Hung Han Yun and Tamykha Patterson’s gorgeous lighting design, while Nicole T Chang’s work (credited for sound effects and as soundscape designer) adds atmosphere. These almost contemplative moments might try the patience of adults more than children. This isn’t the first show I’ve seen where those being naughty were old enough to know better! But the ones that matter – the real fans – love it. It is great to hear them, and Tortoro, roar.

Until 23 March 2024