Here's why 'My Neighbour Totoro' deserved all the Oliviers

The 2023 Olivier Awards took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 2 April. The play, based on the 1988 Studio Ghibli film, will return to the Barbican later this year.

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

The world premiere of My Neighbour Totoro triumphed at the 2023 Olivier Awards, winning six categories out of its nine nominations at the ceremony. It’s a good time for the Studio Ghibli stage adaptation, too, as My Neighbour Totoro will return to London, with performances at the Barbican from 21 November to 23 Mar. 2024.

Based on Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 Studio Ghibli film, My Neighbour Totoro follows Satsuki and Mei, two sisters who discover ancient spirits in their new surroundings. In a five-star London Theatre review, our critic said: “Behind the curtains, a giant silhouette gradually appears, and when those curtains swing open, we finally see [Totoro]: a huge shaggy mass, so enormous, so peculiar and so utterly beguiling that the audience breaks into rapturous applause… It’s a reminder to take time to savour our surroundings and to find joy even in the toughest times. Theatre at its most magical.”

Ahead of My Neighbour Totoro returning to London, we examine why it deserved its Olivier Awards success.

It’s a faithful recreation of the film

In recent years, the West End’s housed gripping adaptations of landmark films: Life of Pi, Network, and the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. My Neighbour Totoro continues the trend, elevating the Studio Ghibli animation into a sensory spectacular for the ages.

But how? Firstly, we must look at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The special effects company worked on dozens of puppets used throughout the show. Combine Jim Henson’s world-class puppet design with Basil Twist’s natural choreography, and it’s no surprise that the show won the Best Entertainment or Comedy title.

Oppenheimer playwright Tom Morton-Smith also adapts Hayao Miyazaki's globally-beloved Studio Ghibli story. Our review said: "Tom Morton-Smith’s adaptation strikes a perfect balance of honouring Hayao Miyazaki’s creation and seeking a new theatrical language." Learn the power of theatre by seeing My Neighbour Totoro in London.

Enjoy all the whimsical puppets

In My Neighbour Totoro, there's five different-sized Totoro puppets to watch out for. Spot the seven Sho-Totoro puppets used too; they're smaller Totoros. In the show, all of the actors apart from those playing Satsuki and Mei double up as puppeteers.

Phelim McDermott directs the collaborative play

The Royal Shakespeare Company, Improbable, and Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV all worked together to bring My Neighbour Totoro to the stage. Director Phelim McDermott’s visionary outlook enabled the show to become a grand spectacle.

He typically directs grand operas such as Akhnaten and The Hours for the Metropolitan Opera, and Aida for the English National Opera. The Broadway director now helms the landmark Studio Ghibli play to Olivier-winning acclaim — he won his first Olivier for Best Director.

The play won four creative categories

A West End show isn’t just about the actors you see on stage. The show requires a stellar creative team to create a magical world like My Neighbour Totoro deserves. The beautiful set design, costumes, lighting, and sound design allow spirits to come alive in a mystical paradise. By the show's end, you’ll wish the spirits were human.

The show picked up Olivier wins in all four categories: Best Set Design (for Tom Pye,) Best Costume Design (for Kimie Nakano,) Best Lighting (for Jessica Hung Han Yun,) and Best Sound Design (for Tony Gayle.)

When is My Neighbour Totoro in London?

My Neighbour Totoro will return to London for a second year. The 18-week season runs from 21 November to 23 Mar. 2024.

Book My Neighbour Totoro tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: My Neighbour Totoro (Photo courtesy of production)

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