The stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli animator Hayao Miyazaki’s classic 1988 film My Neighbour Totoro, officially opening Tuesday night at London’s Barbican Theater, has attracted immense interest from the international theater community. Stage producers and theater owners from New York, Paris, Australia, Korea, Canada and Australia have been tracking the progress of the production being presented by composer Joe Hisaishi and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“There has been a lot of interest,” Griselda Yorke, the show’s executive producer for the RSC, told Deadline. “Lots of people are coming to see it, which is really gratifying. But there’s nothing more concrete than that it’s sparking a lot of interest at this stage of the game.”
Yorke said the fact that so many members from film and theater communities “are coming from all over the world to see it” is a tribute to the collaboration of the RSC, Hisaishi, Studio Ghibli, director Phelim McDermott, writer Tom Morton-Smith and the Jim Henson Creature Shop.
Creatives from Jim Henson Creature Shop was invited to join the project by puppetry director Basil Twist to help create Totoro, the magical forest spirit at the heart of the story. Totoro is discovered by two sisters — 10-year-old Satsuki and 4-year-old Mei — who move with their father to a Japanese village, close to where their mother is hospitalized with an illness. The Creature Shop also built the show’s cat bus, a vehicle that takes on passengers and flies. Another company, Significant Object, created other puppets for My Neighbour Totoro.
During one recent afternoon, the show’s gift shop was crowded with children — along with parents and guardians on hand to pay for a range of fluffy Totoros plus T-shirts, umbrellas and key rings created by the RSC with Studio Ghibli’s blessing. There were many other cute goodies emblazoned with the eye-catching Totoro image designed by theater-land marketing agency Dewynters.
Yorke told Deadline that Studio Ghibli “receive a royalty for every bit of merchandising.”
The show has broken box-office records at the Barbican, with its 15-week run close to selling out.
Yorke was unable to discuss the possibility of a transfer from the Barbican to the West End. However, director McDermott didn’t rule it out during a public talk about My Neighbour Totoro held in one of the Barbican’s cinemas.
”We would love the show to continue,” he told the audience. ”I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the end of the story, and I think the challenge for us is: How do we look after the spirit of the piece so that it is maintained?”
McDermott said that the production, which he described as a play with music — he insisted that it’s not a musical because the performers do not sing, only a singer does — is not really an adaptation of the Studio Ghibli film. ”My dream is that it’s like a sister; a sister piece of art that sits alongside that extraordinary piece of film,” he said.
His other dream, the director said, would be for audiences to see the play at the Barbican, then watch the film on Netflix, which has an extensive range of Studio Ghibli animated movies. ”Have that double experience, they talk to each other,” he said of the show and the film.
McDermott said that sisters Satsuki and Mei are played by adults, Ami Okumura Jones and Mei Mac, respectively. He and other production colleagues felt it was safer to cast adults. ”You couldn’t ask children to do what we’re asking the cast to do,” he said referring to the puppeteering and stage mechanics.
Here is a look at some of the My Neighbour Totoro merchandise and the show’s key art poster:
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