Totoro on Stage

May 26, 2022 · 0 comments

By Helen McCarthy.

When the Barbican and the Royal Shakespeare Company announced the stage adaptation of My Neighbour Totoro, with a new orchestration of Joe Hisaishi’s iconic score by Will Stuart and a hand-drawn title by Toshio Suzuki, it was obviously an iconic event in the annals of British theatre. What nobody could have predicted was that it would break the one-day Barbican ticket sales record, previously held by another superstar production, Lyndsey Turner’s 2015 Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Even before his ascension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Doctor Strange, the BBC’s Sherlock made Cumberbatch the hottest ticket in town. But that was before Totoro.

The RSC and the Barbican benefit from Studio Ghibli’s unrivalled recognition inside and outside anime fandom, a brandwidth equalled by few other animation studios. The RSC’s TikTok £10 tickets scheme enables anyone 14-25 years old to book tickets at £10 each. Broadening theatre access is a major aim of the them RSC and the Barbican, and it’s good news that this scheme has opened up seats to many people who’ve never been into a London theatre.

But for anime fans and theatre lovers alike, if you haven’t already booked your Totoro ticket, your options in the first week are limited to tickets priced at over £50. Even later in the run, and especially around Christmas, the cheaper seats at £15 upwards are selling fast.

What is it about this show that has attracted so much attention? Apart from the direct involvement of Suzuki and Hisaishi, who is Executive Producer, the RSC and the Barbican are working with Nippon TV and pioneering production company Improbable. It’s an impeccable theatrical pedigree, further bolstered by sponsorship from LOEWE, the Spanish luxury goods brand founded in 1846. Their recent collaboration with Ghibli on a range of Totoro goodswas a huge success at London store Selfridges.

It’s unknown what Hayao Miyazaki thinks of his iconic creation featuring on pieces made largely of polyester in the luxury stores of the world; but collaborations like this have undoubtedly helped to raise the profile of the Ghibli brand, embedding it in world culture beyond anime fandom. The RSC’s production of My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican is part of the same process.

It will also be a return to puppetry for Ghibli onstage. In 2013, Whole Hog Theatre’s London production of Princess Mononoke sold out its entire run in four and a half hours, nine months ahead of opening. Once again, a Ghibli show broke a theatre’s box office record, this time at the New Diorama Theatre. The show later transferred to Tokyo where it was seen by over 10,000 people, and featured at Nico Nico Cho Party 2, watched live by 30 million people online.

That production, conceived and directed by Alexandra Rutter, was created with Ghibli’s full permission, but initially produced on a shoestring, using puppets and props handmade by the company from recycled materials. Joe Hisaishi’s music was rearranged by Kerrin Tatman.

Now the Ghibli magic returns to the London stage, and you can be sure that however high the production values, however committed the cast, the show will stand or fall on how well it captures and echo of the magic that Totoro has brought into so many hearts and minds all over the world.

I can’t wait to see it. If you want to share the experience, better book soon.

Helen McCarthy is the author of Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation. Tickets for the RSC’s Totoro production are on sale now.

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