Death Note: The Musical at London Palladium
For the first time ever, Death Note: The Musical is being performed in an English-speaking country. Premiering at London Palladium theatre on 21st August 2023 and based on the popular 2003 manga and 2006 anime of the same name, Death Note follows Japanese high school student Light Yagami, who is brilliant, bored and believes the legal system is not harsh enough on criminals. Meanwhile a shinigami (death god in Japanese folklore) named Ryuk, who is tired of playing with bones and killing people, decides to drop his death note (in which if you write someone’s name they die) into the human world.
When Light picks up the death note he decides to use it to impose his sense of justice onto the world, and uses it to kill criminals. As the masses start to revere this mysterious vigilante whom they call Kira, a police taskforce headed by Light’s father attempts to catch the mass murderer of felons. When the task force brings in L, an avant garde and secretive detective who has never lost a case, Light and L become locked in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, each trying to stop the other in the name of justice.
Death Note takes place on a multi-levelled stage rimmed with red lights against a handwritten backdrop designed as a page of the death note, with various words scribbled on it in the same vein as the original anime, which would flash pages explaining how the note worked in the intermission of episodes. Rectangular screens flank the stage, and red and white spotlights are used to add to the atmosphere. The stage is separated into various rooms, allowing multiple characters to perform with clarity that they are not physically together in the narrative. The design feels functional and postmodern, effortlessly transitioning from a pop concert to a bedroom to a tennis court.
Fans of the original story may be sceptical about the musical aspect, but the songs brilliantly bring the characters to life and move the plot along. That said, we could have done with a few less reprises to allow more stage time for L and Light to interact with each other, as this is a central and compelling part of the story. They’re Only Human provides a fun and illuminating introduction to the characters of Ryuk (Adam Pascal) and Rem (Aimie Atkinson), where we learn about the world of shinigami and the softer, compassionate way Rem views humans, compared to Ryuk’s irreverence.
Kira is slightly pitchy during the chorus, but it’s another fantastic performance by Pascal, who uses his charisma and boundless energy to seemingly praise Light whilst clearly mocking him. It’s impossible to take one’s eyes off him whenever he’s on stage as he constantly moves, swaying and playing with levels to fully embody this winged, otherworldly entity. The Game Begins fantastically presents L (Dean John Wilson): Wilson’s body language is true to the animated portrayal of the character, from the way he crouches on a chair with a slight hunch in his back, one hand angularly placed in his pocket, to how he holds objects upside-down and moves around the stage in a portrayal that is both awkward and yet ethereal. Wilson brings a lot of humour to the character (“Are you annoyed that I’m the only one who has sweets?”) and manages to convey this sense of innocence, which juxtaposes with the character’s brilliance and determination. His speech style – slightly detached, dreamy and pointed – is brilliant. It’s hard to imagine a better thought-out and well executed take on L.
Aimie Atkinson (Rem) has a soft, airy voice that works well with her lighter, more compassionate shinigami character. Mortals and Fools is a wonderfully heartfelt duet between the idealistic Misa (Frances Mayli McCan) and the wary yet loving shinigami. Atkinson also excels during When Love Comes, as she lovingly caresses Misa’s face and kneels by her, communicating a love that is hard to define. Rachel Clare Chan (Sayu) gives a sweet, innocent performance as Light’s sister, and her pure love and admiration for her brother in We All Need a Hero is bittersweetly tragic as we see Light move further into singleminded despotism. Joaquin Pedro Valdes brings an early feeling of idealism and excitement to Light, which quickly melts away to show his underlying smugness and ultimate naivety.
There are a few technical issues on the night, with voices going in and out of microphones and the music sometimes drowning out the singing, so it’s hard to keep up with the lyrics. There is also a slight lack of polish, as if the show still had a few creases to be ironed out. Despite that, Death Note is a wonderful treat for longtime fans, as well as those coming to it for the first time.
Photo: Mark Senior
Death Note: The Musical is at London Palladium from 21st until 22nd August 2023, and transfers to the Lyric Theatre from 7th September until 10th September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.