1. Spirited Away, London Coliseum, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson
  2. Spirited Away, London Coliseum, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson
  3. Spirited Away, London Coliseum, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson
  4. Spirited Away, London Coliseum, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson
  5. Spirited Away, London Coliseum, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson
  • Theatre, Drama
  • London Coliseum, Covent Garden
  • Recommended


Spirited Away

3 out of 5 stars

It’s not quite in the same league as ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, but the West End’s other big Studio Ghibli adaptation is full of magic


Time Out says

‘Spirited Away’ is famously not the first of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpieces to hit the London stage in the last two years. There is also, of course, the RSC’s ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, which has just announced a 2025 West End run after two sell out seasons at the Barbican. 

Comparisons between the two Studio Ghibli adaptations are inescapable. But if ‘Totoro’ was ambitious, you have to admire the sheer gall of anyone even thinking of tackling ‘Spirited Away’.  

Whereas ‘Totoro’ is a story of a limited number of supernatural creatures crossing over into a recognisable human world, ‘Spirited Away’ is about a young girl, Chihiro, who enters a fantastical realm entirely populated with wild spirit beings, from an emo dragon-boy to a colossal overgrown baby. 

It’s a huge ask technically and to cut to the chase, this impressive but slightly starchy Anglo-Japanese Tokyo production – directed by John Caird and co-adapted with Maoko Imai – doesn’t pull it off with the same panache and feeling of ground being broken as ‘Totoro’. 

Although Toby Olie’s puppets and Sachiko Nakahara’s costumes are vivid and impressive, they aren’t the absolute showstoppers that the RSC’s gargantuan, Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop-forged constructs are. And where all the spirits in ‘Totoro’ are puppets, ‘Spirited Away’ simply features too many characters to do that, and is reliant on human actors changing costumes a lot – sometimes it has the look and feel of an old fashioned song and dance spectacular. 

Indeed there are so many performers doing so many things at once that I found Mone Kamishiraishi’s child heroine a bit muted. Her Chihiro gets lost in the noise and dazzle of the world in which she’s stranded. The simpler, more human story of ‘Totoro’ allowed for bigger individual performances.

Fortunately we live in a world where these two shows can co-exist. If the main challenge facing ‘Spirited Away’ is that a true transposition of the film would have to take your breath away constantly, then for three hours it at least does it frequently

The highlight for me was Hikaru Yamano as the sort-of villain No Face; it’s probably the single most important character to get right, and they get it right. A wandering spirit that looks like a walking shadow with an eerily blank mask attached, Yamano’s extraordinary physicality (combined with Shigehiro Ide’s sinuous choreography) is really something: he seems to literally melt away into the dark any time another character threatens to look at him. It’s a vindication of not making everything a puppet; though conversely when he takes on his larger, scarier form it’s the best puppet in the show, a huge, rapacious colossus. 

Jon Bausor’s flexible, multilevel bathhouse set is a clever use of vertical space but can be a little confusing to follow because it doubles up as so many things: the iconic bridge crossing sequence falls flat because it’s only vaguely apparent that the characters are on a bridge. 

But then the show comes into its own when there is a full change of scene for the iconic train ride sequence - Chihiro and No-Face sat next to each other in an unnatural carriage, surrounded by hazy beings, with Satoshi Kuriyama’s ravishing sunrise projections pulsing in the background and Joe Hisaishi’s classic score surging magnificently. It’s beautiful, both as a homage to the film’s most iconic scene, but also something more than that – it has a greater, more visceral, more emotional impact for being right there in front of us. It has a punchy simplicity and powerful stillness (we’re basically just looking at two characters sitting down) that much of the rest of the show lacks.

A proper West End spectacle and it is really very cool that a foreign language production is taking up residence in London’s biggest theatre for four months. I’ve gone on about a certain other show a lot here, but maybe the real take home message is that these films really work on the stage – bring on ‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and all the rest…


London Coliseum
St Martin's Lane
Tube: Charing Cross
£24.75-£180.75. Runs 3hr

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