Review of 'Spirited Away'


I am a big fan of Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki so in recent years I have been blessed with not only the stage production of his classic animation My Neighbour Totoro but also this adaptation of “Spirited Away”. Two of Miyazaki's best animated works and two plays that have been adapted quite successfully. “Spirited Away” is an altogether more complicated work to adapt for the stage compared to “My Neighbour Totoro”. With a large cast, complicated scenes and a much larger story, “Spirited Away” was always going to be a challenge but here they have pulled it off quite well though at the expense of an intimacy that the much slower paced Totoro show provides.

Chihiro Oginio (Kanna Hashimoto) is upset at moving to a new city with her father and mother. When her father takes a detour on the way to their new home they discover what appears to be an abandoned amusement park. Her parents discover a stall with heaping quantities of food which they start to eat but are soon transformed into pigs. Chihiro discovers an enormous bathhouse and meets a mysterious boy, Haku (Kotaro Daigo). She learns the bathhouse is for the spirit world and is told to demand a job from the multi-armed boiler-man Kamaji (Norihide Mantani) who asks another worker, Lin (Fu Hinami), to take Chihiro to see Yubaba (Mari Natsuki), the witch that runs the bathhouse. In exchange for her name, Chihiro, now “Sen” is given a tough job and works hard to make their guest's comfortable but soon finds herself being watched by the mysterious ghost-like “No-Face”.

This is not really a show for young children (particularly since it is performed in Japanese) though they will likely appreciate the imaginative staging and the fast paced performances. Touching on the inevitable coming of age theme this is also a story of persistence against the odds, struggling through adversity. Kanna does an admirable job in the role of “Chihiro” who is on stage pretty much the whole of the show, running across the stage, climbing up and down ladders, it must be quite a workout. I must also mention the compelling performance of Mari as Yubaba which is toned down quite a bit here from the film. As Haku, Kotaro is the spitting image of the character in the film down the way he walks and quickly dashes across the stage in his flowing white robes.

The Stage

The puppetry here is absolutely wonderful such as the boiler-man's amazing long arms and the “soot balls” that assist him as well as the fantastic inhabitants and guests of the bathhouse including the memorable “turnip man” which looks exactly like in the film as well as the dirt creature the patron that “Chihiro” (“Sen”) fills the “big bath” for. The staging is also quite amazing with the set literally spilling out into the auditorium and a massive articulated piece that serves as staircases, rooms, a lift, and a bath. Live music, much of which is from the film, is provided by a life band under the front the stage.


In honour of the show the lobby of Coliseum has been decorated with cherry blossoms. You can purchase bento boxes in advance, though this was sold out for our performance, or the bars all have a small assortment as well. Some of the special drinks on offer were sold out as well. Unfortunately programmes had also sold out but they had a special QR code to order them online (with no delivery charge). As might be expected, there are souvenirs on offer but quite a limited range which included t-shirts, bags and pins but not much more.

The performance is about 3 hours long including an interval. It is performed in Japanese but there are surtitles above and to each side of the stage which makes it slightly distracting, particularly when lots is going on on the stage which you are trying to follow but at the same time trying to read to understand what it is being said. As you might expect, tickets are not exactly cheap with prices ranging from £55 (bring Oxygen) to £225 (have your driver bring Champagne).

An amazing adaptation of an amazing film, “Spirited Away” looks incredible and is highly entertaining though a bit expensive. Likely a bit of a niche audience but you don't really need to be terribly familiar with the source material to appreciate the excellent performances, staging and (odd) story.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2024-05-24

London Coliseum

Location: London (England)

Address: St Martin's Ln, London WC2N 4ES ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Leicester Square TUBE Charing Cross

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7845 9300


Home the English National Opera, the London Coliseum is easy to find with the rotating globe on the roof with it's name on top of it just north east of Trafalgar Square, just up the road from St Martins-in-the-Fields.

In recent years the Coliseum has been substantially refurbished and looks very much better for it from the wonderful wood, brass and glass main doors to the completely restored auditorium it is a sight to behold. Despite this new work it is still quite crowded on performance nights with access to the three balconies (Dress Circle, Upper Circle and “Balcony”) restricted to a single staircase.

Despite being home to an opera company there are a surprising variety of performances here with the acoustics and sounds systems very good indeed. Visibility is pretty good throughout though can be tricky on the Balcony (those with vertigo should give these seats a miss in any case). For full-stage performances I would recommend the dress circle to be able to see the entire stage and enjoy the best of the sound.