A stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic 1988 feature My Neighbor Totoro is heading to London’s Barbican for a limited 15-week season this fall, running October 8 – January 21, 2023.
The film’s original composer Joe Hisaishi is executive producing with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in partnership with Studio Ghibli and in collaboration with U.K. theater company Improbable and Nippon TV.
Playwright Tom Morton-Smith (Oppenheimer, Ravens: Spassky vs. Fischer) adapted the film’s screeplay to the stage, and Improbable’s Phelim McDermott directs.
According to Deadline, who spoke with McDermott, the show’s cast and crew will heavily feature actors and workers of Japanese, East, and Southeast Asian heritage. They also note that the two leads are unlikely to be played by child actors.
Set in mid-20th-century Japan, the film follows sisters Satsuki and Mei after they move to a new countryside home with their father while the girls’ mother stays in hospital with an unspecified illness. With dad left to care for the girls on his own, the two are regularly left to their own devices, eventually discovering a world of magical creatures in the nearby woods.
“The team is enthusiastic and they are all creative and committed,” says Hisaishi in a promotional video, linked above. “The sense of anticipation is high, and we hope to live up to the audience expectation.”
“We’re creating this beautiful show that is a favorite film for lots of people, and we’re turning it into a beautiful piece of theater,” adds McDermott. “To bring it to life there is puppetry, performers, music.”
Puppeteer Basil Twist (Symphonie Fantastique) has been handed the supersized task of designing real-life versions of the film’s iconic creatures. “People know [Totoro’s] image. His proportions, his expressions, they know it. So, it has to be right,” he explains.
According to dramaturg Pippa Hill, Studio Ghibli is intimately involved with the theatrical adaptation. “We’re working hand in glove with the studio. They have been amazing in their generosity to allow us to explore how to bring that story to stage.”
It’s unclear whether or not the show will be recorded for a video release or live streamed at some point, but a Japanese stage adaptation of Spirited Away recently made news when it struck a deal with Hulu in Japan to stream two performances of that show later this summer.