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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Spirited Away

The Stage Play

Being a fan of the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli meant that when Spirited Away was announced as a stage play, I hoped it would eventually come to the UK. After some time waiting, sure enough it did. As Carmen is a fan of Studio Ghibli as well, we decided we'd try to get tickets and the best date for us to go for would be after all our spring races were out the way. The day that leapt out was around our second anniversary, so decided this would be a good way to celebrate it.

Studio Ghibli’s Oscar-winning SPIRITED AWAY, created by legendary animator and director Hayao Miyazaki is re-imagined for the stage by Olivier and Tony award-winning director of Les Misérables, John Caird. The original Japanese cast perform this extraordinary production with wildly imaginative puppets, dazzling set and costume designs and a live orchestra playing the magnificent original film score by Joe Hisaishi.

A masterpiece of storytelling and stunning visuals SPIRITED AWAY, tells the enchanting tale of Chihiro who while traveling to a new home with her family, stumbles into a world of fantastic spirits ruled over by the sorceress Yubaba. When her parents are turned into pigs and she is put to work in a magical bathhouse, Chihiro must use her wits to survive in this strange new place, find a way to free her parents, and return to the normal world.

At the time we booked this performance, it hadn’t been announced that it would be in Japanese with English sub-titles (the WayBack Machine proves this to be the case). This was something that was added to the website almost a month later, and not communicated to those that had bought tickets. The only reason I found out beforehand was because I went to the website a few days before to check which theatre we needed to visit as I’d not noted that. I've never been to a stage play before that has had sub-titles, so wondered how they'd achieve this.

Despite being in the Upper Circle, we had a pretty good view of the stage, with only the front of it not being visible - meaning anything that took place at the very front of the stage would be something we wouldn’t get to see. The only real downside of the seats was that they appear to have been designed for much shorter people, and considering I’m of fairly average height I imagine a lot of people must struggle with these. Whilst sitting up straight, my knees were still jammed into the back of the chair in front, and had no room to move at all. It got very uncomfortable in the first half, so my recommendation for this to others is to buy better seats elsewhere in the theatre. There was however only twice when the performers were too far forward to see from our seats, and these were for a very brief moment.

As soon as the play started, we could see there were screens on either side of the stage that would provide English translations when needed. When the action was happening centre stage, but there was plenty of dialogue, it did make it hard work to keep up with both the translations and seeing what was happening. It felt like there were bits I missed, but overall you do still get the gist of conversations, or what performing you’ve missed if concentrating on the text.

It’s a really good adaptation of the film, with bits of humour injected at times to lighten the mood. I thought the transformation of Haku into the dragon was visually impressive. How they portrayed No-Face (Kaonashi) as he gorges on the people of the Bathhouse was very well done to with a smooth transition from his normal form to the one that is trying to devour everyone and everything in his sight.

It looks like this one used recordings of Joe Hisashi’s original score, rather than a live performance like the Totoro one did. I think that was an inevitable comparison, to compare the two, but they really shouldn’t be compared. They’re different productions, with different aims, and very different stories. I did enjoy Spirited Away despite the couple of negatives I mentioned, and was very glad to have seen it. There is about 30 minutes of intermission after 90 minutes, and then a further 60 minutes after that.

Tags: theatre

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© David G. Paul