Kiki’s Delivery Service, at the Southwark Playhouse (review)

This week we were very excited to attend the press preview of Kiki’s Delivery Service at the Southwark Playhouse (my new favourite place, having loved Licensed to Ill there the previous week).  As you might know, Kiki’s Delivery Service has been made famous by the Studio Ghibli film of the same name, which itself was based on the original book by Eiko Kadono. This version has been adapted for the stage by Jessica Siân and, as with anything you know from the screen, we were intrigued to know how it was going to look and feel.

Well, it looked and felt wonderful. I didn’t know the story beforehand but it centres on Kiki, a fledgling witch who, according to tradition, at the age of 13, must leave her home and her family to make her own way in the world. She leaves, flying, on her broomstick with her familiar spirit, her cat Jiji, and we follow her adventures as she finally settles on a place to stay (each town only needs one witch, and she is not welcome everywhere). Kiki is taken in by the baker Osono, and comes up with the idea of delivering packages for people as a job, though she will only do it out of kindness, never for money.

alice-hewkinAlice Hewkin, by Richard Davenport

matthew-forbes-alice-hewkinMatthew Forbes and Alice Hewkin, by Richard Davenport

Kikis Delivery Service Production Photos
Tom Greaves, Anna Leong Brophy and Alice Hewkin, by Richard Davenport

Kiki, played enthusiastically and sincerely by Alice Hewkin, learns some important lessons in life, about growing up and becoming independent, about loyalty and friendship, and we see a bit of the dilemma between tradition and more modern ways. We witness an important familial bond with both her mother and her father, however the strongest relationship is definitely with her cat, Jiji (voiced and puppeteered by Matthew Forbes). Forbes is the star turn of the show, tempering Kiki’s excitable nature with his haughty one, imbuing the quite simple puppet with such a big (cynical) personality, and darting him all over the stage and even into members of the audience’s laps. Jiji is the real protector and confidant of Kiki, and it is a truly emotional moment in Kiki’s rite of passage when Jiji says goodbye.

The design (by Simon Bejer) is great, where boxes reveal Kiki or a lunch table inside them, and the video design (by Andrzej Goulding) is ingenious. You see plants and you don’t question that they are real until they have disappeared; the next minute it is raining. I also enjoyed the spots of colour in the costume and set design, for instance, the bright orange space hopper, or the bright red oversized bow in Kiki’s hair. I also liked the fact that the flying is not always done via a fancy wire clipped on to somebody’s back (although those do feature too), but it is also done in a comically lo-tech manner, for example when another ensemble member lifts up a character and gallops around with them over one shoulder.

We see Kiki reach a low point when she has failed in a delivery job and loses all belief in herself to carry on, not leaving her bed for days. The plot also has a climax, whereby Kiki is challenged to save the town by fetching a cog from the clocktower before it is too late. Other than this, the story is light and I found the ending a little abrupt. However, this is a small criticism of a charming production whose visual effect and performances leave quite an impact upon you.  My children (9 and 11 years old) were entranced by it, and we would unreservedly recommend it to anyone.  I congratulate everyone involved with this show, and urge anyone reading this to consider going to see it – especially if you are interested in setting out into the world on your own, whether you’re a young witch or a young person.

We were given press tickets to see Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Production shots by Richard Davenport, the other photos my own.

Kiki’s Delivery Service plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 8th January 2017.
Check the website here for full details.

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