The production is a collaboration between multi-award-winning composer Joe Hisaishi, who is executive producer, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Improbable and Nippon TV. The production, adapted by Tom Morton-Smith (“Oppenheimer”), premiered at the Barbican in October last year and broke the venue’s box office record for the most tickets sold in a single day. He won six Olivier Awardsfive What’s on Stage Awards and Critic’s Circle Awards for Best Design. Variety gave the production an enthusiastic review.
The coming-of-age story follows a summer in the lives of sisters Satsuki and Mei. To be closer to her mother while she recovers from an illness in a rural convalescent hospital, her father moves the family to the countryside. Mei encounters magical creatures and the ancient protector of the forest she calls Totoro, and the sisters soon find themselves caught up in adventures.
Morton-Smith said Variety that although there are no important changes in the second version of the program, the learnings from the first season have been taken into account and the rhythms and some stage technicalities have been improved. “That’s one of the joys of being able to go back to some things: you can tighten the screws a little, make it smoother and flow better. And when you’ve seen it a few times, there can be little moments of rhythm within each individual line that no one else would notice, but I like to go back and fix that,” Morton-Smith said.
Adapting “My Neighbor Totoro” seemed a natural choice for Morton-Smith when the process began in 2018. “When the RSC asked me to think about writing a family show, and if there was something I wanted to adapt, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ came to mind.” to mind simply because the film has a beautiful atmosphere and what theater can do so well is create atmospheres and I think a lot is gained by inhabiting those atmospheres with live actors on stage. So I knew it would work because if we could get close, even if we could get to half the atmosphere of the movie, then it would be something worth doing,” Morton-Smith said.
What also attracted Morton-Smith was that the plot is quite gentle and had a pace quite different from what theater usually requires, allowing the atmosphere and the lives of the characters to wash over the audience.
“My Neighbor Totoro” was released in 1988 and the plot is set in the 1950s. “It’s already set in a very different time than when it was written, so that helped me. It’s not like I’m trying to update the story, I haven’t reset it in the contemporary world and [have] it kept it in that original time period of 1955. So it didn’t need a huge amount of updating in terms of speaking to modern sensibilities because it already has that beautiful, timeless quality,” Morton-Smith said.
The idea of a story in which city children moved to the countryside and explored a magical world that returned to nature for healing seemed like something that could be found throughout European and British literature and particularly in British theatre, he said. Morton-Smith. The show has certainly resonated with UK audiences to the point that the entire first broadcast was sold out, as was most of the second.
In a post-Covid world, “My Neighbor Totoro” also provides some life lessons. “What works so beautifully about the film, and what I hope we’ve managed to capture in the theatrical version, is that it speaks to people differently depending on where they are in their life and what their experiences are,” Morton-Smith. saying. “For younger kids, it’s very much an exciting fantasy adventure with big furry friends in the woods. And for slightly older kids, it has a coming-of-age story about Satsuki, the older sister, who learns about mortality for the first time and discovers that her parents are not perfect, and realizes that she has to grow a little to take a little more responsibility.”
“It’s a much sadder story for adults because it’s about these two parents, the mother is incredibly sick and might not survive, and all the fear that that creates about ‘what’s going to happen to my two young children and how are we doing?’ . Let’s face it.’ And the film does not shy away from the idea of loss, of children learning about the reality and presence of death in their lives. But it does it delicately, and it does it in that brilliantly beautiful Ghibli way of not watering it down, but not being harsh, it’s just there, it’s just part of life,” Morton-Smith added. “And that is the message of the piece, that they are things that we all go through when we are children, we learn that our parents are not going to be there forever at some point. And maybe we escape into a fantasy world to help us get through it, because that’s what stories and dreams and spirits help us with, but ultimately, life is what it is. And you have to learn about it at some point.”
On whether the stage production of “My Neighbor Totoro” will travel to its conceptual home country, Morton-Smith said: “Obviously, it would be a pleasure to take it to Japan. And there are conversations going on about everything.” However, at the moment nothing is confirmed.
Mei Mac will reprise her Olivier Award-nominated performance and What’s on Stage as Mei Kusakabe with Ami Okumura Jones returning as older sister Satsuki. Dai Tabuchi as Tatsuo and Jacqueline Tate as Granny.
“My Neighbor Totoro” returns to the Barbican from November 21, 2023 to March 23, 2024.
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