December 18, 2023

My Neighbour Totoro

Step into the enchanting world of "My Neighbour Totoro," a mesmerizing collaboration between Japanese composer Joe Hisashi and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Artistic Director Kevin Dowsett deems it an unmissable, brilliant, and heart-touching experience that lingers in your thoughts long after.

This joint production between the Japanese composer Joe Hisashi and the Royal Shakespeare Company is one of those few occasions where I dare to say those words – this is a must-see. What a wonderful show.

It’s set in that Japanese land of strip cartoons like the film Spirited Away but as a piece of theatre, it is brilliant. It started as a 1988 film and tells the story of a father and two young daughters who relocate from Tokyo to the country because the mother is in a nearby hospital. It doesn’t sound that special but the house they move to soon opens up and is moved around impressively by a cast of black costumed people. It’s got the ah factor as the two young girls – played by adults – are so endearing and believable with their hopes and fears that we begin to care for them. Going to a new place is always going to be hard and sometimes even the next-door neighbours can seem a bit scary.

What is special about this production is the way the large cast brings to life the forces deep down inside us of fear, hope and the need to be cared for when we are young. It doesn’t sound amazing but the way the actors use puppets – even huge ones take us somewhere else. The stage sets are beautiful and conjure up houses, school buses, paddy fields and classrooms – a background to the unfolding story. When the central younger girl gets lost our heartstrings are pulled as the villagers drag the pond and we are taken into the fear of the sister and the father. The stage pictures are universal and exceptionally well presented and the young audiences were entranced by what they were seeing.

The world is not always a happy place but here the story unflinchingly deals with difficult things in a way that touches a young child’s heart and gives them hope for the future. I don’t think it would be spoiling things to say that there is a happy ending and we felt so much joy. When the actors who manipulated the puppets came down to reveal themselves, we realised what a complex technical production it is. The interval, when we watched, was extended by more than 30 minutes with those dreaded words “due to circumstances beyond our control.” But shortly after it restarted you forgave the wait because you were drawn again into a world where all your senses were engaged and you wanted to know the outcome.

The show is running at the Barbican Theatre in London until March so if you get a chance, I urge you to go – but give the gift shop a miss – a cuddly toy version of the main puppet at £75 I don’t think so!

I know it’s one of those shows that stays in your head long after you have seen it. It reaches parts of your head and heart that most shows can only dream of. I feel better for having seen it.

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

Related Articles

In the Room    

Welcome to Theatretrain's blog! Kevin Dowsett, the Artistic Director, shares his recent experience returning to the classroom. In a movement workshop at The Place in London, he worked with a Laban expert from Brazil, exploring creativity through movement. Discover how these exercises inspired flexibility and connection, and the lasting impact they had on him and his peers.
Read more >

Matilda

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, recently attended a captivating production of Matilda Jr. The young cast, many performing for the first time, dazzled with their enthusiasm and stage presence, especially during those powerful songs. 🌟 From Roald Dahl's book to Tim Minchin's musical, Matilda's charm continues to captivate audiences. 🎶✨
Read more >

Computer Says No

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, reflects on the frustrations of modern complexities in everyday tasks. Drawing a parallel with The Truman Show, he highlights how simple processes have become burdensome due to excessive regulations and risk aversion. Dowsett's insights resonate with anyone who feels thwarted by bureaucratic hurdles in an increasingly complicated world.
Read more >

Summer Schools Make a Difference

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, highlights the transformative power of residential summer schools. These immersive experiences allow young people to step away from their daily routines and engage deeply in creative pursuits. At Theatretrain's summer school, participants form lasting friendships, hone their talents, and discover new dimensions of themselves through intensive workshops and collaborative activities.
Read more >

Company Call

Last Sunday, Theatretrain held the company call for their 102nd large-scale show. Artistic Director Kevin Dowsett witnessed seven Theatretrain companies, who had been rehearsing since February, come together for the first time. In just three hours, they transformed a school theatre into a hive of creativity and talent, setting the stage for an unforgettable performance. Read the full blog to dive into the details of this extraordinary day!
Read more >

Sometimes We’re All Empty Vessels

Dive into the captivating world of human behaviour and self-perception with Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain. From actors' veiled insecurities to the art of projecting confidence, Kevin explores the intricacies of the human condition. Discover how the stage becomes a training ground for courage, humility, and self-assurance, shaping tomorrow's resilient adults.
Read more >