Review of 'My Neighbour Totoro'

Royal Shakespeare Company


After a first sold-out run in late 2022/early 2023 the play “My Neighbour Totoro”, an adaptation of the Japanese anime of the same name, returns to the Barbican for an extended run in late 2023/early 2024. I had tried to get tickets for the initial run but was unsuccessful so as soon as this new run was announced I was quick to grab tickets. The Barbican theatre is not great with fixed seating, no under-seat space for bags/jackets and no leg room but the auditorium itself is impressive with an extra wide stage and all seats being quite close to it meaning you are really drawn into the performance which is perfect here. We were lucky to have seats in the middle of the first row of the circle meaning we could take in the entire spectacle from a bit above the stage.


The story (told in English) follows a young girl, Mei (played by Mei Mac), who moves with her sister Satsuki (Ami Okumura Jones) and their father, Tatsuo (Dai Tabuchi), to a rural village where their mother, Tasuko (Emily Piggford), is sick in a local hospital. Locals suggest the house they are moving into is haunted which the girls confirm early after they arrive when the walls are covered with “soot sprites”, black balls of fluff, that are easily scared away. Later Mei comes across several small round creatures in the forest that lead her to a giant sleeping creature - “Totoro” - A gentle giant that Mei quickly befriends.

The Stage

This is not a film I would have ever considered suitable for the stage but here the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) have done an absolutely incredible job. They manage to capture the fun and charm of the original film including bringing the magical characters to life on the stage. Yes, it is a full size Totoro, literally, filling a large part of the stage when he is present. Even the cat bus is here in all of it's glory - A huge inflatable puppet lit from inside that bounds across the stage. In most cases the puppeteers do not hide themselves instead taking a clue from traditional Noh theatre, wearing black, with a black veil that the conceit then dictates that they are “invisible” (called “Kuroko”). In fact, often these puppeteer/stagehands would be pressed into service for the plot seemingly despite their wishes. Of course I have to talk about the puppets. They are truly astounding - Incredibly performed and conveying a huge amount of character. There are several sequences where the imagination goes wild with sequences of the cat bus bounding over the electric pylons or running through the countryside. Indeed, at the start of the play the logo comes alive with insect-like characters dancing over the logo. The puppets do not dominate though with the cast and sets (including the house) playing their part in delivering the experience.

The actress playing Mei (Mei Mac), obviously much older than the four years of her character, in particular manages to capture a child-like authenticity that utterly convinces, staying very much true to the film. But all of the cast are incredibly focused on their roles and play them incredibly well with an amazing naturalness and suitable simplicity.

Throughout the performance the small orchestra is perched at the back of the stage on platforms in the tree-tops of the set. There is live music throughout as well as vocals performed by a female singer in both English and Japanese. The music very much follows the soundtrack of the original film.

Despite the film being largely aimed at children there is a lot for an adult audience to enjoy here though those looking for a deep philosophical meaning should probably look elsewhere, this is simply a tale of childhood innocence.

The performance is 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 20 minute interval. Of course, there are loads of souvenirs on sale here including many stuffed toys and books. Ticket prices are quite expensive but it is understandable considering what it must have cost to put this show together.


An incredible theatrical experience that is amazing to behold even leaving aside the fact it is an adaptation of a film. The acting, puppetry, music and staging and superb. One of the best shows I have ever attended. If you can get a ticket, damn the expense and get it!

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2023-12-27

Barbican Centre

Location: London (England)

Address: Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS, UK

Public Transport: TUBE Barbican TUBE Moorgate NRLOGO Moorgate

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7638 8891


The Barbican Centre is in the middle of the brutalist Barbican housing complex. The centre is a mixed-use arts venue with theatres, cinemas (in the basement), galleries and library as well as dining facility (both cafe, buffet and fine). The facilities are quite good and there is always something going on.

Regardless of how you get here you will probably end up walking through the Barbican so watch for the signs directing you to the Barbican Centre itself as the complex is quite large.