A reviews round-up for the RSC’s new stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro, now playing at the Barbican Theatre in London.
The critics reviewed My Neighbour Totoro last night, Tuesday 18 October 2022, and the show is set to play a 15-week season at the Barbican to 21 January 2023.
Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) has been lovingly brought to the stage by its original composer Joe Hisaishi in this new RSC adaptation, written by playwright Tom Morton-Smith (Oppenheimer) in collaboration with Improbable and Nippon TV.
Exploring a magical fantasy world of childhood imagination, the show follows an extraordinary summer in the lives of two sisters, Satsuki and Mei.
The show is directed by Phelim McDermott with production design by Tom Pye, costumes by Kimie Nakano, lighting by Jessica Hung Han Yun, and movement by You-Ri Yamanaka. The show also features puppetry created by Basil Twist and music from Joe Hisaishi’s iconic score in a new orchestration by Will Stuart, performed live with sound design by Tony Gayle and Video by Finn Ross.
The cast of My Neighbour Totoro includes Haruka Abe (Yasuko/ Puppeteer), Li-Leng Au (Puppeteer), Boaz Chad (Puppeteer), Nino Furuhata (Kanta/ Puppeteer), Andrew Futaishi (Puppeteer), Zachary Hing (Puppeteer), Susan Momoko Hingley (Miss Hara/ Puppeteer), Yojiro Ichikawa (Puppeteer), Arina Ii (Puppeteer), Haruka Kuroda (Nurse Emiko/ Puppeteer), Marian Lee (Puppeteer), Matthew Leonhart (Puppeteer), Mei Mac (Mei), Aki Nakagawa (Puppeteer), Kanako Nakano (Tsukiko/ Puppeteer), Ami Okumura Jones (Satsuki), Michael Phong Le (Hiroshi/ Puppeteer), Tobi Poster-Su (Puppeteer), Si Rawlinson (Puppeteer), Dai Tabuchi (Tatsuo/ Puppeteer), Jacqueline Tate (Granny/ Puppeteer) and Shaofan Wilson (Puppeteer).
Reviews in this round-up include TimeOut, The Times, The Telegraph, and more reviews to follow.
My Neighbour Totoro reviews
"A vital power surge of Anglo-Japanese creative electricity"
"It’s a pleasure to report that what fans loved about Hayao Miyazaki's film has been beautifully served in this stage version"
"You have to go back to the mega-musical Matilda to find a family friendly RSC project around which so much excitement buzzes and upon which so much hope is pinned"
"There’s a humble, faux-naif quality to some of the scenic elements, but ‘Totoro’ is magnificently humongous with a mighty, reverberating growl, wicked smile, lumbering walk and bouncy castle of a fluffy tum. The wow-factor of his spectacular appearances, worth the price of admission alone, is matched by the hallucinogenic, 12-legged ‘Cat-bus’"
"In the RSC’s new blockbuster awe-inspiring puppets bring Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece to the stage flawlessly"
"... the puppets – designed by Basil Twist, assembled by Jim Hendon’s Creature Workshop – are fucking spectacular."
"Spoiler alert, but there are actually at least five Totoros, ranging from his colossal sleeping form – when Mei Mac’s Mei first randomly encounters him under the giant camphor tree near her house – to smaller, more mobile forms, and even a sweet 2D faux-woodcut version. All of them are absolutely charming, and most of them have the troublingly enormous teeth and tongue that define the OG screen version"
"My only quibble is that in its sheer reverence for the source material, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ feels entirely beholden to it. Of course you’d enjoy it if you hadn’t seen the film, but nonetheless, there is no question that its purpose is to put the film on stage. Colossal as the talent on display is, there’s not much room for fresh artistic vision"
"Animated whimsy takes to the stage with aplomb"
"If you’re an admirer of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli movies, you’re almost certain to feel the same about Tom Morton-Smith’s puppet-driven adaptation, which adds flesh to a pastoral storyline that is so slender it could be described as Teletubbies go zen"
"Phelim McDermott, the stage director, provides more of a spine. As pure spectacle, the results are overpowering, even if Hisaishi’s score is never more than amiable — think Einaudi with a jaunty beat."
"Tom Pye’s faux-primitive production design delivers a delightful melange of wooden homes and tangle of forest, all stunningly lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun."
"Dazzling staging of the Studio Ghibli classic"
"The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production has astonishing puppetry, magical music and huge emotional impact"
"Under the direction of Phelim McDermott, it is not an exact replica. There is a different imagination at work here, but it is just as enchanting and perhaps more emotionally impactful."
"The drama comes infused with Shinto and Japanese folklore which renders it a different narrative experience to western fairytales. It takes on an almost spiritual energy with its indistinguishable line between dreamworld and reality along with its centring of children’s imaginations and the importance of nature."
"It is not nearly as high-powered in its special effects as a Disney adaptation but just as dazzling in its magic realism"
"It’s easier to admire this Studio Ghibli adaptation than love it"
"This show transposes the off-key weirdness of the original, but the story could use more jeopardy, darkness and more of the monsters"
"This blockbuster family show from the Royal Shakespeare Company is full of dazzling visual magic but short on plot, just like the Studio Ghibli animation classic it’s based on"
"The blimp-like Totoro, his rabbity minions and the enormous 12-legged cat bus that transports people across the sky in its abdomen are powerfully realised through giant puppetry and inflatables in Phelim McDermott’s production"
"... the story could use more jeopardy, more darkness and more of the monsters"
"Here, the RSC is clearly hoping for another commercial success to match the Tim Minchin/Dennis Kelly adaptation of Matilda. For all the ravishing imagery and the collective endeavour involved, this show isn’t quirky or adult-friendly enough for that."
"Exquisitely lovely and enormously beguiling take on the anime classic"
"Faithfully adapted by playwright Tom Morton-Smith and directed with wit and tenderness by Phelim McDermott, the show is a quirky delight that enchants and amuses, but also moves: its child’s-eye view of the world evokes both wonderment and vulnerability. It could so easily be tacky or saccharine. Instead, it’s exquisite, every detail of design and execution painstakingly considered."
"It’s unadulterated joy: a huge, healing hug of a show, generous and utterly beguiling."
"Magical staging of a much-loved film at the Barbican"
"The stage responds with its number-one asset: the audience’s imagination. The result — in the hands of playwright Tom Morton-Smith, director Phelim McDermott, designer Tom Pye, lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun and puppeteer Basil Twist — is a gorgeous, uplifting tribute to the link between theatre and the imaginative realm of children’s play."
"The pace chafes sometimes on stage — it could be shorter, meatier and freer. But this is a tender, remarkably beautiful family show that extols kindness and leans into the film’s emphasis on a world as seen through a child’s eyes."
"Inventive, Visually Thrilling Adaptation of the Studio Ghibli Favorite"
"... adapting so revered an anime title posed a huge risk. Could such utterly filmic material transport a live audience? Happily, with the uniquely inventive director Phelim McDermott at the helm, almost all doubts evaporate."
"This production, and McDermott’s work as a whole, is the antithesis of what director Stephen Daldry once termed “burglar’s theater,” in which the lights periodically switch to a blackout and stagehands come on to steal and swap the furniture. This is a theatrical what-you-see-is-what-you-get. You can see the workings."
"... the design team let rip with pretty much every type of puppetry, plus giant set pieces, inflatables and more, all marshaled into grand-scale theatrical storytelling. As a feast for the eyes, it’s currently matchless"
"... Tom Morton-Smith’s adaptation is faithful and neat, but anyone coming new to the material in search of satisfying, well-paced plot is likely to be disappointed."
"Psst! A big cuddly surprise in this sugar-rush of a show"
"For sheer, turbo-charged, off-the-Richter scale, sigh-inducing spectacle, you will not beat the Royal Shakespeare Company's cutesy new family show."
"The big cuddly Totoro is therefore, inevitably, also the big draw in Phelim McDermott's stage show... To watch, it's certainly amazing. Puppetry performed by a mostly Japanese company wearing black beekeeper suits is a ballet unto itself."
"The show has charm to burn, thanks also to an ankle-blizzard of puppet hens at the neighbour's farm. And Joe Hisaishi's score mixing Japanese pop and Western classical traditions is performed by a band in treetops silhouetted by a massive rising sun, while ethereal serenades sung by Ai Ninomiya cover long scene changes."
"McDermott's production bathes in childlike wonder and Tom Morton-Smith's script is restricted to dopily anodyne dialogue."
"A monster hit"
"The RSC hits the spot with an ambitious children’s show based on a 1980s Japanese classic"
"Even when we enter the woods there is no sense of Brobdingnagian menace often found in European children’s literature. Nor is the show as stickily sweet as some American musicals. There is something likeably impassive, lightly surreal to it all."
"Totoro is, like this show, big, cuddly and not entirely verbal. Its charm and its shortcoming is that the production lacks malevolence. My adult preference would have been for something a little more driven by character and a plot more interesting than “everyone’s been so kind and everything’s going to be all right”, but the wail of that youngster in the stalls suggested that it will hit the spot for its target audience. After a dud decade the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is behind this production, finally has a box-office hit."
"A beloved Studio Ghibli anime is brought to magical life in Phelim McDermott’s new RSC production"
"A battery of talent brings Studio Ghibli’s 1988 anime film to the stage"
"Still, it is the puppets, designed by Basil Twist, that are the real pull of a show that broke the Barbican box-office records for ticket sales in a single day."
"Puppeteers flit through the action like grey-clad beekeepers... At one point they push the veils away from their faces and seem to be – as the puppeteers in Warhorse were – the souls of the creatures and the real pulse of the play."
"The East meets the West in a remarkable staging of a classic"
"East meets West in this inventive staging of Japan's most successful animated film from the legendary Studio Ghibli - the company behind fantasy classics such as Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away."
"The story is slender and the songs unremarkable, but that’s hardly the point. The benign environmentalism and puppet master Basil Twist’s creations (via The Jim Henson Company) are the reason to book your seats. Cynical adults may not be transported by its singular whimsy. Everyone else will be spirited away."