Putting together a theatre production of 40 cast members in the middle of a pandemic is no easy feat. Throw in the fact that said performance is the first-ever professional stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic ‘Spirited Away’ and you’ve got one heck of a difficult task on your shoulders. But through the unparalleled determination of dozens of performers, creatives and crew members, the long-awaited stage adaptation of ‘Spirited Away’ finally made its theatrical debut at Tokyo’s Imperial Theatre last week.
It’s hard to imagine an adaptation of any Studio Ghibli film that would live up to its source material. However, the set visuals released shortly after the play’s opening are better than anything we could have imagined.
Starring Kanna Hashimoto and Mone Kamishiraishi as Chihiro, the play involves a great deal of puppets – designed by Toby Olié – to recreate the fantastical creatures and characters who live in the mystical world that Chihiro accidentally wanders into. Olié, who studied puppetry at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, is one of the most sought after puppetry directors in the industry. His credits include numerous major productions such as the 2007 premiere of ‘War Horse’ at London’s National Theatre as well as the current UK Tour of ‘Animal Farm’.
In charge of spearheading the production is Les Misérables director and honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company John Caird, whose involvement was one of the main reasons Studio Ghibli agreed to give the adaptation the green light.
On Twitter, Caird described the intercontinental struggle of arranging rehearsal schedules across several different time zones and organising Zoom calls with overseas staff who worked all day and night to put the show together. The director also credited the unbelievable amount of support and positivity of his cast through the most difficult and arduous rehearsal process of his life.
‘Spirited Away’ is showing at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo until March 29. After that, the play will go on tour around Japan through the summer. You can book your tickets here.
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