‘My Neighbour Totoro’: Royal Shakespeare Company Brings Back Smash Stage Adaptation Of Studio Ghibli Classic For Second Season In London

Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company is bringing back its barnstorming stage adaptation of famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s hand-drawn 1988 classic My Neighbour Totoro for a second season at London’s Barbican in November.

The show will play 17 weeks at the arts venue located in the capital’s City district from November 21-March 23.

It follows an inaugural 15-week run that closed January 21 after playing to record-breaking audiences of more than 130,000, according to data we requested from the RSC.

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Director Phelim McDermott told us “that for lots of children” the show was “their first experience of visiting the theater.”

But there was another demographic that fascinated him.

“There were a lot of video and games enthusiasts, a lot of them in their late teens, who really got into it,” said McDermott, who also is co-founder and co-artistic director of the Improbable theater company.

It’s thought that both the family and the teen audience watched Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli masterworks on Netflix during the pandemic. ”They were switched on to it,” McDermott noted.

My Neighbour Totoro is produced by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi and the RSC in collaboration with Improbable and Nippon TV. It’s adapted by Tom Morton-Smith with music by Hisaishi; some of his stage score wasn’t in the movie version.

As with the film, the show is set in 1950s Japan and follows the adventures of Satsuki and Mei, young sisters who move from Tokyo to the countryside. Once there, they encounter playful spirits and furry creatures including a giant fluffy fellow known as the Totoro and a mammoth catbus that flies across a stage skillfully designed by Tom Pye and lit by Jessica Hung and Han Yun. 

The playful beasts were designed by puppetmaster Basil Twist, who then tasked Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop in Los Angeles to build them.

The Totoro and the catbus are theatrical masterstrokes, so much so that the RSC has point-blank refused to release photographs of them so as not to spoil the fun for future fans.

The magical creations used in the original production were the prototypes, McDermott explained. New puppets will be introduced when the show returns, though the director commented that they’ll be made a tad stronger “so that the puppets last longer.”  

McDermott said that the play honored the “cultural origins” of My Neighbour Totoro by using Japanese language when appropriate. For instance, he said, “The greetings were in Japanese.” 

There’s a sense that the second season at the Barbican won’t be its last.

And McDermott wasn’t shy about further ambitions for My Neighbour Totoro. “I know a lot of Americans saw it,” he said. “I would love the show to come to New York.”

For that to happen,he said, the RSC would need to find a venue big enough for the Totoro — and for the cat bus to soar away into the sky.

Priority booking starts April 11, and casting for the November run will be announced soon.

The show has been nominated for for nine Olivier Awards, and the ceremony is being held Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall. Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham has hosting duties and will lead an ensemble performing an opening number choreographed and directed by Anthony Van Laast (Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast).

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