Last autumn London’s Barbican Theatre hosted a sell-out run of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbour Totoro. This past weekend, following the announcement that the production will return for a limited run in autumn 2023, the production won six prestigious Olivier Awards.

The six Olivier wins include Best Entertainment or Comedy, Best Director for Phelim McDermott, and all the Design awards: Costume (Kimie Nakano), Sound (Tony Gayle), Set (Tom Pye), and Lighting (Jessica Hung Han Yun). It was also nominated in three other categories – for Theatre Choreagraphy (Basil Twist), Original Score/New Orchestrations (Joe Hisaishi and Will Stuart), and Best Actress (Mei Mac). The six Olivier wins come only a few months after the show scored five WhatsOnStage Awards, voted on by the public, in February.

The playwright for My Neighbour Totoro, Tom Morton-Smith, dedicated the show’s award to his stillborn daughter.

According to the BBC:

“In a heartfelt speech, he said he wrote Totoro with the joy and expectation of being a new parent but, after his daughter’s death, he wanted to keep her memory alive when people watched the play.”

The Laurence Olivier Awards – more widely known as the Olivier Awards – reward excellence on the London stage. The awards have been in existence since 1976, and are presented by the Society of London Theatre. In terms of clout, the Olivier Awards are the British equivalent of the Tony Awards – much like the Tonys celebrate New York’s Broadway Theatre and are considered a pinnacle of achievement in US theatre.

Credit: Manuel Harlan RSC with Nippon TV

My Neighbour Totoro (1988) is an anime classic from the famed Studio Ghibli animation studio renowned for producing hit, award-winning movies – five of the studio’s films have been nominated for Academy Awards, and Spirited Away received an Academy Award in 2003. Directed and written by Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki My Neighbour Totoro follows the adventures of young girls Satsuki and Mei who move to the countryside with their father while their mother is sick in hospital – there they encounter woodland spirits and surreal creatures, including the Totoro of the film’s title.

The Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of My Neighbour Totoro was written by Tom Morton-Smith and produced by the movie’s original composer Joe Hisaishi, in collaboration with Improbable and Nippon TV. It had its initial 15-week run between October 8, 2022 to January 21, 2023 – and tickets were hard to come by.

It even set a new box office record before it had even staged its first performance – as the Barbican Theatre said it exceeded the number of tickets sold in a single day when they opened sales for the show (beating a 2015 production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch).

The just announced new limited run of My Neighbour Totoro will take place from November 21, 2023 to March 21, 2024 (with public booking opening April 21, 10am GMT).

When My Neighbour Totoro was first announced, Joe Hisaishi – the original film’s composer and executive producer on the project – said:

“In Japan, many people are passionate about theatre and musicals, but there are no original Japanese shows or musicals performed in the world. “Totoro” is a Japanese work famous throughout the world, and so this stage adaptation could have the potential to reach global audiences. That’s what I thought, and I told Mr Miyazaki “I want to see such a show” and he said ‘yes, only if you are going to do it’.

“This responsibility is a huge task, but we chose to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a globally prestigious company, and with their support we can make it happen. I am delighted that the RSC have become our partner because I feel much in common between the quality of the RSC and Mr. Miyazaki’s aesthetic. This is a ground-breaking project. Phelim McDermott is a wonderful director, and his team are enthusiastic, creative and very hardworking. They love Totoro and the sense of anticipation is high.”

Credit: Manuel Harlan RSC with Nippon TV

Full breakdown of awards for My Neighbour Totoro at Barbican theatre, London:

Won (6)

  • Noël Coward Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy
  • Best Costume Design – Kimie Nakano
  • Best Sound Design – Tony Gayle
  • Best Set Design – Tom Pye
  • Best Lighting Design – Jessica Hung Han Yun
  • Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director – Phelim McDermott

Nominated (3)

  • Gillian Lynne Award for Best Theatre Choreographer – Basil Twist for puppetry direction
  • Best Original Score or New Orchestrations – Joe Hisaishi and Will Stuart
  • Best Actress – Mei Mac