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Spirited Away at the London Coliseum Review

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Spirited Away
: ★★★★★
Venue: London Coliseum
Cast: Kanna Hashimoto, Kotaro Daigo, Hikaru Yamano, Fu Hinami, Tomorowo Taguchi, Romi Park, Kenya Osumi, Sunao Yoshimura and Obata no Oniisan 

A masterpiece of storytelling and stunning visuals SPIRITED AWAY, tells the enchanting tale of Chihiro who while traveling to a new home with her family, stumbles into a world of fantastic spirits ruled over by the sorceress Yubaba. When her parents are turned into pigs and she is put to work in a magical bathhouse, Chihiro must use her wits to survive in this strange new place, find a way to free her parents, and return to the normal world.

If you’re unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli, they are some of the most beautiful animations out there. Full of a life and whimsy that is so unique to the worlds created by Hayao Miyazaki, and among those; Spirited Away is perhaps the most beloved of all. I think this is why a lot of people, myself included, went into this stage adaptation not really knowing what to expect. I can assure that any avid fans will not be disappointed. 

Spirited Away follows ten-year-old Chihiro, whose life is changed when she and her parents enter the spirit realm. The story centres around a bath house which is run by a witch named Yubaba, and brings together a whole cast of Japanese gods and spirits, exploring what their lives look like when they’re enjoying some downtime, and that of those forced to work there.

What was truly remarkable about Spirited Away is that there was never a time where the stage didn’t feel alive. I think this has been the biggest struggle in adapting animation for a live audience, and even on screen, in the past. The use of puppetry, live orchestra and projection meant that every scene felt as colourful and quirky as you would expect from a Studio Ghibli production, the main set was constantly moving, the staging never the same from scene to scene; there was always something to look at and everything was so gorgeously designed. 

From the moment you step foot into the theatre you are spirited away yourself and fully immersed in the story. 

The choreography of the roles is probably what is most commendable about the show. There are as many roles that require multiple bodies to bring the character to life as there are single actors. Though even some of those roles, such as Chihiro and Lin, are played by up to four actors over the run, meaning this is one of the largest changing casts; something that is commonplace in Japan. As for roles like Haku and Kamaji, their presence on stage is the work of up to five people between the actor and the puppeteers, who dress in khaki to blend in with the staging, and at no point does this take away from the immersive-ness of the story.

You will be left too stunned to process how they accomplished their feat live, right in front of your eyes, without you seeing it coming. 

Spirited Away is as true to the source material as it can be, though in the endeavour not to leave anything out, the runtime does creep towards being an hour longer than the animated version. Die-hard fans will likely overlook this detail, like I did, but for anyone looking to experience the story for the first time, it’s something to bear in mind. That being said, this is a show in its first week and it’s entirely possible that things will run differently as the production progresses through its run.

Spirited Away
 is the most breath-taking piece of theatre I have ever seen and one I will remember forever.

This is one of those theatre productions that will without a doubt stay with anyone who watches it. Even if you don’t think that the story appeals to you, I’d recommend any fan of theatre give this production a chance and see what can be achieved on stage with the right passion and creativity. Spirited Away is here to usher in a new calibre of West End productions and is one not to be missed. 

You can book tickets to see Spirited Away at the London Coliseum, here.

Review originally posted to Stage To Page.

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