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Earlier this year I heard about a small theatre troupe putting on a play based on Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke feature. I had to rub my eyes in disbelief, what I was looking at was real, Hayao Miyazaki had given permission for a UK theatre group to create a play on his story. It was even more surprising learning that instead of giving the rights to a West End group he had given the green light to a small group of actors/actresses who were unknown. But looking back on this fact, it is very much in the sprit of Miyazaki’s beliefs. Unfortunately, when I saw the play advertised it was being performed at the same time as my trip to Japan and I lamented that fact as I felt it would have been a spectacular experience.
Now, thankfully due to crowd funding through Kickstarter the troupe was able hire the New Diorama theatre for a second showing of Princess Mononoke during June. Thankfully, I was free and due to being online at the time the second set of tickets was released I was able to score 2 tickets to the penultimate performance of the play. I was then astounded to find that all the tickets to all the showings had sold out within 8 hours, which was a record for the theatre. Then came the long wait until the day of the performance arrived.
We arrived at the theatre, situated in a new development near to Warren street station, about 30 minutes before the performance. Thankfully, there was a nice ‘seating’ area outside where we could enjoy the nice day before the show. When the time came to see the show we were nervous with anticipation to find out how the famous movie had been adapted, and if would be faithful to the original.
We walked into the small theatre, a capacity of 80 seats, and when you entered the theatre you felt as if you were being transported to a different world. The whole room was decorated in foliage with 2 Kodama (tree sprits) greeting us at the front. The changes in the environment really helped bring all the attendees into the world of Mononoke.
Once the play started there was no need to be worried about how the play was adapted as through the play you could see the care and respect the troupe had to the original. It was amazing seeing the small number of actors fluidly transform into a variety of roles and personalities and brought to the forefront their talent to the audience. The set, even though it was small, felt much bigger as the play was performed. The foliage was transformed into different scenes through the use of UV lights showing the ethereal Kodama magically appear in the forest to the screen at the back playing animations to help transport you from the forest to the mechanized iron works.
The puppets and costumes on the sets were all made from recycled materials, which go hand in hand with the philosophy/ideals of Ghibli. The Boar gods and Wolf Gods were simply amazing and you could see the care and attention that had been put into the puppets. The scale and the mechanics of each puppets are hard to describe in text, but they really helped bring each character to life and through each of the sculptures you could feel their personalities oozing out.
During the play the actors used the theatre to its fullest and in certain parts they went into the audience bringing them into the story even more. The score of the play used Joe Hisashi’s soundtrack and was performed by a very small orchestra, who were very also very talented. I felt that having the original score made the play feel more complete and I am grateful to Miyzaki and Ghibli for giving the group permission to use the soundtrack. If it was not there I think it would have felt strange as the music in Ghibli produced films is almost as important to the story.
In summary the play was a lovely experience and I am very glad that I was able to attend. I was amazed by how faithful the play was and the set/costume designs were to the original and am very sad that I was not able to see the play more than once before its closing. Maybe in the future this will lead to other plays based on the Ghibli franchise? Who can tell what will happen!