This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:
Originally a highly regarded and popular Japanese animation by the master Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke is an ambitious project for the young company, Whole Hog Theatre. The story is an epic fantasy dealing with battling clans, mythological beasts and spirits, charting the adventure of Prince Ashitaka who is cursed during a battle with a monster and had to travel to the west to find a cure. The journey takes the prince to an iron-producing town and involves him in a battle between the gods of the forest wanting to protect nature and the human occupants of the town consuming the resources.
The adaptation to the stage is a faithful reproduction of the original film and it is obvious that a lot of effort has gone into making the production. It has a few obstacles to overcome in its adaptation with regard to the depiction of the beasts, spirits and battles. The beasts are represented by well designed puppets and some of the large scale ones are operated by three of the cast. Their movement and control may be a little elementary but they do have a stage presence. The fight scenes are also impressive because of the potential danger due to the intimacy of the theatre space with two separate sword fights going on. There is good use of dance movements in some scenes to effectively convey caring emotions and passage of time.
The pint size stage houses a dense forest backdrop upon which the musicians perch in the foliage. The use of projection above the set gives a sense of location, setting, and movement whilst giving a nod to the production’s animation origin. In one scene, a clever use of ultraviolet light brings out all the tree spirits that have always been there amongst the set mirroring their nature. All the technical aspects of the production have been well thought out and innovative in their approach.
The youthfulness of the ensemble cast does lend an animated quality to the production and there is a clear enjoyment and energy in their performances. They all have demanding tasks as they play multiple roles and also operate the puppets.
However, the storytelling can sometimes disappear amongst all the set pieces and to the large number of peripheral characters involved. It is not always clear what is going on. Also, the use of Japanese names may be faithful to the original, a translation of which will be easier for the audience to follow especially the names are sometimes descriptive and meaningful to Japanese speakers. It may help to give some background to the characters but it will no doubt affect the pacing of the play. Anyway, this can easily be solved by catching up on the animation after the show.
This is an ambitious and innovative production by a young theatre company which is clearly not afraid to take on big challenges. It has largely succeeded in terms of the technical side of production especially given its budget and resources. This is definitely a theatre company to look out for in the future.
Runs until 6th April and from Tue 18 to Sat 29 June 2013