My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican
Featuring a gorgeous score, a simple but enchanting story and some impressive puppeteering, My Neighbour Totoro – an adaptation of the 1988 movie of the same name – is a genuinely enticing production that is great for all audiences. Everything is designed with so much love and care that one can’t help but admire the sheer passion, making this an adorably whimsical and uplifting spectacle.
The project is a collaboration by Joe Hisaishi with the Royal Shakespeare Company, who join forces to bring Studio Ghibli’s classic to life. Director Phelim McDermott’s vision is a success throughout, featuring stunning designs by Tom Pye, costumes by Kimie Nakano and puppetry by Basil Twist. The magical elements of the film – such as the cat-bus with its Cheshire Cat grin, the soot sprites and, of course, the creature Totoro itself – are all implemented via puppetry with gigantic props that capture the audience.
The plot is fairly simple, which is fine (it’s not only an excuse for the magical encounters to happen, but it does come close), and the acting performances are fine too. The protagonists, Satsuki (Ami Okumura Jones) and Mei (Mei Mac), are played by adults, which can at times feel a bit odd, but they still largely manage to capture the spirit of their characters. But it is the puppeteer ensemble that is truly impressive: with great accuracy and pristine execution everything just fits neatly together.
The score, written by Joe Hisaishi, is ubiquitous in Totoro, and it’s just as suitable on stage as it is on the screen. Musical director Matt Smith draws the most out of the musicians, which creates a soundscape that intoxicates from the start. Singer Ai Ninomiya accompanies the musicians to great applause in select numbers.
Running at two and a half hours, including the interval, Totoro is hardly a short piece, especially for one geared towards children, but it is overall so entertaining that it hardly matters. Regardless of age, the mixture of strangeness and magical beauty hooks the audience and never lets go until the last moments of the performance. For fans of the movie of all ages it’s definitely a must-see.
My Neighbour Totoro is at the Barbican from 8th October until 21st January 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the show here: