May 2013

Meeting Ashitaka



Maximillian Troy Tyler recalls meeting Yōji Matsuda, the voice of Ashitaka, and remarks upon his character development whilst in Tokyo.

When acting in a stage play, your character is constantly developing through every rehearsal and every performance. How I played Ashitaka before we hit Japan was extremely different to how I play him now, after performing a run of eleven shows in the amazing AiiA theatre and meeting the man behind voice of Ashitaka, Yōji Matsuda. It was a shame that I didn’t get to ask him as many questions as I had wanted, I could have picked his brain for hours given half a chance!

The main thing that I have taken away from meeting him, were his words as he explained how he felt we had stayed truthful to the Anime itself, but had given it a life of our own; given it our own little something. It was an honour to find that he enjoyed my portrayal of Ashitaka, and it is wonderful to know that the man that originally voiced him, the man that made Ashitaka, approves of my, and our work. The main thing that has changed my interpretation of Ashitaka whilst performing in Japan is simply just experiencing the culture of the country.

The Japanese have a tremendous amount of respect for everything that they see, hear, taste, touch, and although before we came to Japan, my Ashitaka was extremely respectful of everything around him, being in Japan and seeing this respect first hand, opened my eyes to how the Emishi (the tribe that Ashitaka comes from) might have lived. I cannot wait to get back to the stage for our second run in the New Diorama Theatre. I’m eager to see where my Ashitaka goes from here, what new things develop inside him and what new things may come out in my performance.

Japan not only changed my character, it changed me. I’ll never forget our experiences whilst performing over there, and I look forward to bringing my new insight into my character to an English audience.

Maximillian Troy Tyler 
Ashitaka, Princess Mononoke 

 Big audiences, big theatre, big pressure and big amounts of Starbucks

It was only two months ago myself and Charlie sat down to have a pastry party to celebrate the official announcement of our transfer to Japan – to mark the event we played Alphaville’s Big in Japan – little did I realise how often that phrase would come back to haunt us. Big audiences, big theatre, big pressure and big amounts of Starbucks. How do you take a show from a typical London fringe theatre with a capacity of 59 to a leading theatre in Tokyo with a capacity of 800, you may well ask?

Perhaps the unorthodox answer being: spending two weeks in a workshop in Kita-Toda, a rural part of Japan, fixed to my emails and phone. But the true answer lies with: passion, determination and of course constant communication spanning two different time zones. I was fortunate enough to be leading such an adaptable and professional company; our production team and cast dealt with daily schedule changes and pressures without a blink of the eye. All forgiving, understanding and worth their weight in shiny, shiny gold.

Working alongside our Japanese producers we faced the challenge of making an inherently British show accessible to a Japanese audience, and of making our ways of approaching and performing theatre as flexible as possible. With a shared motivation of making the production the best it can be and honouring Studio Ghibli’s work, we were able to overcome any last minute crisis that comes with putting on a production, particularly at this scale.

Despite the challenges, the strength that pulled me through was this incredible opportunity that we were given: everyone who had worked so tirelessly on this production was given their chance to shine, to have their efforts and work exposed in a professional capacity, and we were able to bring Princess Mononoke back to home. The opening night was one of those rare moments, a communal sense of pride shared by those not only involved but by every audience member who ever has been entertained, surprised and thought-provoked by Ghibli’s work.

We have faced the biggest challenge of our lives thus far, and have triumphed with renewed energy, friends (I’m looking at you, Family Mart) and understanding of the show. We’ve been from the extremely testing: 3am meetings lying on the hotel floor, to the immensely rewarding: meeting Miyazaki-san at Studio Ghibli. The next challenge being: scaling it all back! Bring on New Diorama Theatre: The Return.

Beckie Targett x
Producer, Princess Mononoke 

 Meeting Miyazaki


A year ago, Whole Hog Theatre was in Leamington Spa. Our Artistic Director Alex had just got back from her job in a jewellery shop. Polly, one of our Company Directors, had a night off from her job as a cocktail waitress, and Charlie was on her way home from the alpaca farm where she was working in the shearing tent.

And then we got an email from Studio Ghibli.

Since then, our lives have transformed. We were given the incredible honour of adapting Hayao Miyazaki’s award winning ecological fable for the stage, using recycled materials to create set, puppets and costumes, and a cast of fifteen young performers playing up to nine roles each to tell the story as faithfully as possible. Still entirely run by volunteers, the whole team worked beyond the limits of human endurance to realise the film live at the New Diorama Theatre in London for a week of sold out performances.

And then we came to Tokyo.

We opened at the AiiA Theatre in Shibuya on April 29th to a packed house of 800. One audience member in particular was keen to speak to us after one of the performances, and that was Toshio Suzuki, producer of Studio Ghibli. We almost couldn’t believe it when he told us just how much he had enjoyed the show, and nearly fell over when he invited us to visit the Ghibli animation studios. The entire team boarded a train to the studio in a quiet suburb not far from the theatre.

And then we met Mr Miyazaki.

Anyone who loves his work can appreciate how much this has meant to the cast, crew and production team of Princess Mononoke. The old adage that you should never meet your idols has no place here – Mr Miyazaki was charming, inspiring and faultlessly gracious throughout. Our tour of the studios was fascinating and exhilarating in itself, but I know that for most of us, it was meeting Miyazaki-sama that will shine brightly as the greatest experience of our time in Tokyo. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the task we have set ourselves with this show, but meeting him has energised everyone with a new drive and focus. We are so grateful for his kindness, and are honoured beyond words by his praise.

We will go on tweaking the show between performances, and even 6.30am alarms for early make up calls won’t get us down. We are so grateful to everyone who has brought us this far, and are now even more determined to keep striving to improve and develop our show into something we, the fans, our producers, and Mr Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli can continue to be proud of.

Charlie Hoare x
Princess Mononoke Puppet Designer