REVIEW: Spirited Away, London Coliseum ✭✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews Spirited Away, the latest stage adaptation of the work of Studio Ghibli at the London Coliseum.

Spirited Away
Kanna Hashimoto. Photo: Johan Persson

Spirited Away
London Coliseum
4 June 2024
4 Stars

Following the hugely successful staging of My Neighbour Totoro comes another Studio Ghibli hit, Spirited Away. Considered to be the favourite and most accomplished of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpieces, it’s certainly a lavish, spectacularly staged show. It’s a piece of disciplined movement, superb choreography and astonishing puppetry. Our heroine, Chihiro, enters a fantastical world where her parents are turned into pigs while eating from a sorcerer’s banquet without permission. She encounters a huge cast of wild spirits, emo dragon boys and huge babies, ruled over by a Thatcher like evil Queen. It’s never dull, but begins to feel bloated as every scene progresses. Although spectacular, the human quest is lost a little and it begins to register a bit flat. I floundered in places, watching a show spoken in Japanese with surtitles to the left and right of the stage, meant I missed a few things deciding whether to look or read. Anyway, so far so very Alice in Wonderland.

Spirited Away
Kanna Hasimoto (Chihiro) and Kotaro Daigo (Haku). Photo: Johan Persson

It’s performed on Jon Bausor’s multi layered bathhouse set, and the puppetry by Toby Olie is often astonishing, although the frog creature is reminiscent of the Muppet Show. On the night I attended, Momoko Fukuchi was an earnest, convincing Chihiro, Hikaru Yamano a shimmering, haunting No Face, and Mari Natsuki a wonderful Yubaba/Zeniba.  In fact, there are so many in the ensemble, Chihiro begins to look a bit overwhelmed. Ay nearly three hours long, it can feel like an endurance test, and the train to Boggy Bottom takes longer than Greater Anglia on a bad night.

Spirited Away
The Company of Spirited Away. Photo: Johan Persson

However, there is so much to enjoy, including the wonderful aerial flight of the dragon, and Joe Hisaishi’s classic score is played magnificently by a live orchestra. Fans of the film will marvel at its faithful adaptation. Those of us who are not familiar with the original source may find it all a bit cold and clinical, great to look at, but emotionally void.



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