Review | Princess Mononoke

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This review was written for Animations Online

An epic tale told with ambition and enthusiasm, ‘Princess Mononoke’ features a menagerie of oversized wild beasts and mythical creatures, brought to life by the energetic puppetry of Whole Hog Theatre. A stage version of a Japanese animated feature film, this long, fantastical fairytale is surprisingly engrossing. It’s packed with powerful but flawed female characters and ripples with well choreographed war mongering and magic.

Crammed into the New Diorama’s small theatre space, the puppets dominate. A huge wolf and an enormous boar each require four people to operate them. Inspired by Handspring, the animals are rough, skeletal constructions made from recycled materials, with the puppeteers’ legs exposed. The full body puppet young wolves – each operated by one individual using a pair of crutches – are impressive if a little awkward. Other representations are simpler and more successful. The red elk – just a mask and a man – is utterly convincing in its movements, grunts and whinnies.

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The story is complicated and universal – it’s about a quest and a curse, with a moral warning and an environmental message. It’s about man versus nature, and it’s a love story of sorts. The forest setting is successfully evoked with a lush backdrop of twisting tree roots and exotic foliage. Together with beautiful costumes and accomplished make-up, the visual effect is brilliant. And up within the trees’ branches sit musicians, who provide a filmic soundtrack.

Whole Hog Theatre are a vibrant young company who are both exciting and exhausting to watch. Attracting an audience of Studio Ghibli fans, ‘Princess Mononoke’ has sold out its run at the New Diorama. The effective use of space, the convincing characters and the clever use of scale and speed, help further explain its popularity. It will no doubt play again, catch it if you can.

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