Spirited Away review – Studio Ghibli theatre adaptation is utterly enchanting | Theatre | Entertainment


It’s been over 20 years since Hayao Miyazaki won the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar for Spirited Away.

The Studio Ghibli masterpiece, which is often compared to Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz, is now considered one of the greatest movies ever made. So it was only a matter of time before a stage adaptation came to fruition.

London has already been blessed by the theatrical production of My Neighbour Totoro, based on another Miyazaki movie classic.

And following that show’s newly announced 2025 transfer to the West End, it’s now Spirited Away’s turn to shine in the British capital.

The original cast from the sold-out Japanese world premiere is performing this limited UK run, speaking in the original production’s native tongue with English captions. And having witnessed opening night as a Studio Ghibli fan, we can confirm it’s an utterly enchanting experience.

Just like My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away is both an incredibly faithful adaptation of the movie and a generous length, clocking in at 3 hours including the interval. The magic begins even before the play starts, with the stage space decorated in dazzling greenery, before the story’s lead enters the stage with her parents, travelling in a car to their new home.

Before arriving, her father insists on a pitstop at what appears to be an abandoned theme park with food still being served. But things soon turn south as her parents are turned into pigs. Entering the spirit realm, the girl finds herself at a bathhouse for the gods ruled over by the witch Yubaba. Here Chihiro takes a job, meeting all kinds of weird and wondering creatures as she sets off on an adventure to save her mother and father and return to the human world.

From the start, this Studio Ghibli story is magically adapted for the stage by Toho Theatrical Department and Les Mis director John Caird. The show is full of whimsy and colourful characters, with various fantastical monsters entering the bathhouse in beautifully designed costumes. Highlights had to be the giant radish spirit sharing a lift with Chihiro and the boiler man Kamaji with his long marionette spider arms.

Just like Totoro, the puppet work throughout is impressive and delightful, with cast members in beige blending into the scenery as they bring beings to life. From a frog man and giant living faces formed together by puzzle pieces to the swirling majestic kites of strange birds, spirits and dragons – it’s a spectacle to behold. All this takes place around a special effects-laden shifting set, as the ensemble creates the illusion of running along a corridor, by moving door-shaped wooden props around in unison.

Spirited Away isn’t a musical, but original songs are introduced alongside Joe Hisaishi’s gorgeous original film score, performed by a live orchestra in the pit. This added touchingly to quieter and more emotional moments, like the famous train journey ride with the entity known as No-Face. A particular music-driven high came at the end of the first half, when the whole cast were dancing on stage with golden fans, dressed as their eclectic characters. Glorious.

The only real criticism we have of this production is that having to read English captions at the side of the stage keeps you from taking in the surreal wonders in front of you. So where you sit in the theatre really does matter and we’d recommend further back and up where the captions are above the stage rather than to the side. Nevertheless, this is an unmissable treat for Studio Ghibli fans and theatre-goers wanting to see something different and particularly engrossing.

Spirited Away is performed at the London Coliseum until August 24 and tickets can be booked here.

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