My Neighbour Totoro @ Barbican Review

Whether you’re familiar with Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro or not, the eponymous anime aesthetic is something I’m sure many of us are familiar with – a mercurial, comforting , friendly, creature who happens to appear at just the right moments. Originally an animation released in April 1988, the Japanese cultural phenomenon has enjoyed success internationally having also received various accolades along the way. 34 years on, and the cult classic has been reimagined for the stage, receiving its premiere at the Barbican and realised by Tom Morton-Smith and director Phelim McDermott.

Courtesy of Manuel Harlan.

A tale of a family dealing with transition in multiple ways, My Neighbour Totoro places itself in post WWII Japan as a family – consisting of Mei (Mei Mac) the youngest child, Satsuki (Ami Okumura) Mei’s older sister, and Tatsuo (Dai Tabuchi) their father make the move to an old, seemingly unassuming home in attempts to live nearer to their mother Yasuko (Haruka Abe), Tasuo’s wife as she undergoes treatment for a life threatening illness.

Brought closer together by this heartbreaking reality, what then transpires is a metaphysical, spiritual series of encounters that delve deeper into the beauty of what we think we already know and materialising the unseen. Mei’s encounters with house spirits and Totoro throughout delivering points of intrigue and hope. Phelim’s hearty production one that embodies the vivacity and animated spirit of the original story, the ensemble – Haruka Abe, Boaz Chad, Nino Furuhata, Andrew Futaishi, Zachary Hing, Yojiro Ichikawa, Arina II, Haruka Kuroda, Marian Lee, Matthew Leonhart, Susan Momoko Hingley, Aki Nakagawa, Kanako Nakano, Michael Phong Le, Si Rawlinson, Jacqueline Tate and Shaofan Wilson powering the show’s puppetry and transitions with energy and ease. Tom Pye’s production design inventively places us in rural Japan, from a crooked, wooden shack-like home to rice fields brought to life brilliantly by the ensemble as they walk across the stage. Basil Twist’s inventive and versatile  puppetry grasping the animated world’s magical quality, Matt Smith’s musical direction and David Gallagher’s orchestral management further tapping into the production’s mercurial aspect. One to watch, highly recommended!

Written by Lucy Basaba.

My Neighbour Totoro is currently showing until Saturday 21st January 2023 at the Barbican. To find out more about the production, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop