Staged inside the atmospheric and bare brick Vaults at Southwark Playhouse; a beautiful pop-up style castle stood like an open page, waiting to tell us a story…
Howl’s Moving Castle, originally a novel, was animated into an anime film in 2004 by Studio Ghibli. The film broke box office records worldwide. Having seen the film (I am an avid fan), I wasn’t expecting the fantastic storyline to translate well on stage. As expected, the play was somewhat different from the animated film, but the plot did retain some of its integrity and originality.
Plot Summary The play is about a young girl called Sophie, who works in a hat shop opened years ago by her late father. One day she finds she has unexpectedly angered the evil Witch of the Waste and finds herself trapped within a spell that turns her into an old woman. Sophie takes shelter in the home of Howl, a strange but flamboyant wizard whose magical castle can move between various lands and dimensions powered by Calcifer, a fire demon. Sophie embarks on a journey to break her own spell and the one binding Howl and Calcifer together, only to discover that there is a lot more to the heartless Howl than meets the eye.
What makes the play great The play was combined with live action and pioneering digital projection. The pop-up style castle worked as the giant projection screen; with several different images projected onto the screen. The play’s attempt to pull off a theatrical experience fusing with cinematic elements worked well.
The Stars The play was narrated by Stephen Fry; his narration treated the audience to a distinctive and enchanting storytelling. Daniel Ings was excellent as Howl; Kristin McGuire’s role as the evil Witch of the Waste was quite pantomime-y and Susan Sheridan played old Sophie energetically.
So…what did I think? Despite the amazing projections, the play cannot compete with the magical animation of the film. The visuals were the most striking thing about the show and the light storyline makes it watchable. If you’d like to watch an intriguing alternative to the usual festive plays showing this December, then Howl’s Moving Castle is the play to watch.