10:14 - 1st May 2013, by David West

The Princess And The Play

A young company from the UK has staged the first ever theatrical production of Princess Mononoke. NEO's David West spoke to Alexandra Rutter and Charlie Hoare about going the Whole Hog.

Princess Mononoke was the most expensive animated film ever made in Japan when it was released in 1997. It became a smash hit, taking over US$150 million at the Japanese box office. It is a thrilling story of a cursed warrior, the clash of the wilderness and humankind, and the war between the gods of the forest and the forces of industrialisation. Now a small, youthful theatre company from England is bringing the story to the stage.

Whole Hog Theatre was founded by a group of graduates from the University of Warwick in 2011. Their debut production was an adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, but then this upstart company decided to take a swing at Hayao Miyazaki's anime masterpiece. "I saw the film a long time ago. I thought, 'Wow, I've never seen anything like this,'" says Whole Hog director Alexandra Rutter. "I loved it for years and then I had this idea, 'This would be amazing on stage.' The scale of the film didn't strike me as a problem. It didn't seem that implausible."

So Alexandra contacted Studio Ghibli to see if they would allow Whole Hog to tackle one of their most successful stories. "When we sent them our proposition we didn't think we'd get a response or if we did it would be a few years down the line," says Alexandra. To everyone's surprise the studio responded quickly and positively. "I think it might have had something to do with the fact that we are so small that they were interested in letting us do the adaptation," continues Alexandra. "If we were this huge corporate company with commercial interests at the heart of our production process then it would produce a very different show. Perhaps they understood where we were coming from and why we wanted to do it."

The play uses a combination of actors and puppets to depict the spell-binding story. "Our aim from the very beginning has been for audiences to watch the show and feel the same way they did the first time they watched the film," says Puppet Designer Charlie Hoare. "If we can give them that sense of discovery all over again then we've done our job. The biggest challenge therefore is finding ways of translating the devices the film uses to tell the story into techniques that work onstage. Puppetry is one of those techniques."

Whole Hog's production of Princess Mononoke ran at The New Diorama Theatre, London, this April.
This is an extract of a longer feature which originally ran in issue 109 of NEO.

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