1. My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican, 2023
    Photo: Manuel Harlan
  2. My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican, 2023
    Photo: Manuel Harlan
  3. My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican, 2023
    Photo: Manuel Harlan
  4. My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican, 2023
    Photo: Manuel Harlan
  5. My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican, 2023
    Photo: Manuel Harlan
  6. My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican, 2023
    Photo: Manuel Harlan
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Gillian Lynne Theatre, Covent Garden
  • Recommended


My Neighbour Totoro

4 out of 5 stars

In the RSC’s new blockbuster awe-inspiring puppets bring Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece to the stage flawlessly


Time Out says

This review is from 2022. ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ transfer to the Gillian Lynne Theatre in the West End for a fresh 2025 run. Lead casting is TBC.

Studio Ghibli’s 1988 cartoon masterpiece ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is a stunningly beautiful, devastatingly charming film, in which not a huge amount happens per se. 

It follows two young sisters who move to the countryside with their dad and basically get up to a lot of extremely normal things… while also fleetingly encountering a succession of astounding otherworldly creatures, most notably Totoro, a gigantic furry woodland spirit, and the Cat Bus, a cat that is also a bus (or a bus that is also a cat, whatever).

Its most iconic scene involves young heroines Mei and Satsuki waiting at a bus stop, and Totoro shuffling up behind them, chuckling at their umbrella (a new concept to him) and then hopping on his unearthly public transport. So if you’re going to adapt it for the stage you’re going to have to absolutely nail the puppets you use to portray Totoro and co. 

The RSC absolutely understood the brief here, although you’ll have to take my word for it, as for this first ever stage adaption – by Tom Morton-Smith, overseen by legendary Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi – the company hasn’t allowed a single publicity photo of a single puppet (bar some chickens) to be released. 

Nonetheless, the puppets – designed by Basil Twist, assembled by Jim Henson's Creature Workshop – are fucking spectacular.

They have to be fucking spectacular because that’s the offer of this show. It’s ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, but IRL. Morton-Smith has not radically revised Hayao Miyazaki’s original screenplay, director Phelim McDermott and designer Tom Pye have not significantly tinkered with the look; Hisaishi’s sprightly songs are still there, performed by the talented Ai Ninomiya. It even begins with a lovely faux-facsimile of the film’s iconic opening credits, complete with animated letters (including a cheeky ‘u’ that apologetically slinks down to alter the name from ‘neighbor’ to a more British ‘neighbour’).

An unknowable furry wall of whimsy who laughs, roars, licks his lips, rolls his eyes and waits for busses

Spoiler alert, but there are actually at least five Totoros, ranging from his colossal sleeping form – when Mei Mac’s Mei first randomly encounters him under the giant camphor tree near her house – to smaller, more mobile forms, and even a sweet 2D faux-woodcut version. All of them are absolutely charming, and most of them have the troublingly enormous teeth and tongue that define the OG screen version. I wrote a somewhat emotional review when the theatres reopened last year about how the giant bunny rabbit in the Bush Theatre’s reopening show ‘Harm’ really restored my faith in the stage. And frankly, that rabbit is literally and spiritually dwarfed by Totoro, a titanic, unknowable furry wall of whimsy who laughs, roars, licks his lips, rolls his eyes and waits for busses and it’s all basically the greatest thrill ever (NB I still love that rabbit). The Cat Bus is great too, like a colossal Chinese lantern, and Totoro’s goggle-eyed, rabbit-like minions are a delight. But it’s the big guy who truly enchants.

The show has assembled an admirable range of British East Asian actors, smartly getting around the nominal youth of the story’s heroines (Mei is four) by casting adults Mac and Ami Okumura Jones (Satsuki) but stuffing them in perspective forcing costumes that make them look more like children dimensionally. In many ways the true leads are the anonymous legions of black-clad puppeteers who archly double, triple and quadruple up as everything from Totoro to the hordes of ‘dust sprites’ that populate the girls’ new house, to a flock of wobbly chickens.

My only quibble is that in its sheer reverence for the source material, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ feels entirely beholden to it. Of course you’d enjoy it if you hadn’t seen the film, but nonetheless, there is no question that its purpose is to put the film on stage. Colossal as the talent on display is, there’s not much room for fresh artistic vision. But it’s what the people want, and when what the people want is a house-sized forest demon furry thing with a massive tongue, the people should not be denied. Yes, it’s a faithful transposition of the film. But every setpiece you’re willing to be a stunner, is a stunner, an endless cavalcade of sweet, strange joy.


Event website:
Gillian Lynne Theatre
Drury Lane (corner of Parker Street)
Tube: Covent Garden/Holborn
£29.50-£92.50. Runs 2hr 45min

Dates and times

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