My Neighbour Totoro
Barbican, London, until Jan 21
The Royal Shakespeare Company claim their stage adaptation of My Neighbour Totoro – a 1988 animated children’s fantasy from Japan – is their hottest-ever ticket. I can’t in all honesty fathom why.
Totoro turns out to be an over-inflated Mr Blobby and he is the neighbour of a peculiarly boring family who move into his neighbourhood. The patriarch is played by Dai Tabuchi – a bespectacled besuited fellow who looks and acts very much as if he’s appearing in a corporate training video.
Haruka Abe plays his wife, who is in a hospital with an undefined illness but her plight seems for most of the show to be a matter of supreme indifference.
There’s also a huge inflatable cat that doubles up as a bus, and a lot of smaller creatures that look like they’ve been bought in a rush from Hamleys.
What purpose they all serve I’ve no idea. I’ve not seen the film and this show
is no incentive to do so. The script, to the extent there is one, seems to be no
more than a stream of consciousness to somehow link the moments the big
inflatables put in appearances.
The cynical intention is, however, clear enough: to make a lot of children’s eyes open in wonder.
I think children these days are a lot more sophisticated than this. If they get
inflatable creatures, they want at least some degree of characterisation. All
there is here is hot air and the special effects just aren’t very special.
The best children’s shows work also for adults – Matilda the Musical and the Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol come to mind – but this show makes the mistake of patronising both age groups.
I had hoped for a lot more depth from a Phelim McDermott production, but what I got was Mr Blobby on speed and the clear impression that the RSC will do whatever is necessary to get its finances back in order after the
pandemic. A low point not just for a great theatrical company, but also
British theatre in general.