Kiki’s Delivery Service is perhaps one of award winning Studio Ghibli’s most beloved films. Released in 1989 it was later dubbed in English and featured actress Kirsten Dunst in the main role – but what many may be unaware of is its origins as a novel. Written by Tokyo born Eiko Kadono, the book won many awards including the Shogakukan Award for Children’s Literature and Noma Award for Juvenile Literature.
Kadono’s best known novel tells the story of teenage witch, Kiki, who must leave home and fend for herself as part of a mandatory year of independent living. She finds and settles in a city remarkably different from her home and though initially facing tough adversity, (Kiki’s aversion to black confuses those more used to ‘traditional’ supernatural attire) she begins to settle into a gratifying life delivering various objects to the city’s inhabitants. As with many of us leaving home for the first time, all does not run smoothly and Kiki faces a momentous identity crisis, helped only by the support of her new friends. Ahh to be 13 again.
Royal Court Young Writer Alumni, Jessica Sian adapts for the Southwark Playhouse’s Large space and gives just as much heart and humour as both Kadono and Studio Ghibli accomplished over 30 years ago. The pain Kiki’s mother (Anna Leong Brophy) experiences upon seeing her young daughter off; the desperation to ensure she is ready, whilst conversely having to implement deep routed tradition into her is excellently realised in the writing, as well as in Leong Brophy’s performance. Likewise, Kiki’s father (Tom Greaves), who isn’t particularly accustomed to the history of witchcraft is written and performed with depth.
Moving the original Japanese setting (albeit fictional) into an ambiguous one that holds all manner of British accents makes some sense. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a children’s show and so it clearly needs to be followed and formulate in their heads with ease, rather than overcomplicate with too much universality. Perhaps the West Country ‘farmer’ is a little OTT however. What is really fun about this show are the small bits of Japanese culture it includes. Kiki’s favourite outfit is cute, colourful and animated, the music she enjoys is the same and probably the best scene in the entire show sees the whole cast complete a wonderfully bonkers dance routine dressed as the leading lady and gleefully shoving broomsticks in the air. Such a delight.
Simon Bejer’s set is minimal, leaving plenty of opportunity to manipulate the array of props popping up throughout. Broomstick flying unfortunately doesn’t actually happen (shocking, yes) but Robin Guiver’s movement work ensures it is still effective and hilariously cheeky. Both this and Elliot Griggs’s work as lighting designer collaborate perfectly, especially in scenes involving high speed. The puppetry in the show too, whilst not of the calibre of War Horse, gives much to the story and audience.
Generally, the cast are excellent multi-taskers. Aside from Alice Hewkin’s Kiki, all play several roles each and all successfully convince. Matthew Forbes has much to do, not least manipulate a puppet and act like the world’s snootiest feline and Greaves juggles an assortment of accents and personalities fantastically. There really isn’t a weak link here, with all performing with entertaining ease.
Here, Kate Hewitt proves that the Southwark Playhouse can do Christmas consistently well year after year. This is a beautiful stage adaptation of a beautiful story with plenty to entertain everyone and oodles of little quirky treats for those worrying about a potential lack of Eastern magic.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is playing the Southwark Playhouse until January 8 2017.
Photo: Richard Davenport