Review: Howl’s Moving Castle @ Southwark Playhouse
It’s coming up to Christmas – well its December anyhow – a time that makes each and every one of us wish we were five again and believed in Santa (or is that just me?). Watching kids films, eating so much chocolate I think I might be sick and dancing around to Mariah Carey is usually the way I go about reviving my five year old self, but I thought I might try something a little more sophisticated this year. When I heard the fantastic film (and originally book) Howl’s Moving Castle had been adapted for the stage and Stephen Fry’s voice was involved, I decided it might be just the thing to get me in the festive mood.
Walking into the auditorium at Southwark Playhouse, the beautiful pop-up style set stood like an open page, waiting to tell us a story. When the show began, the stage came to life as bright projections whizzed over the castle and its walls, transforming it into many different landscapes and homes and interacting with the actors in a way that made the magic feel more real. The storytelling felt like an amalgamation of the traditional and the modern – the voiceovers lending a wink to the classic story tape and the flying projections offering filmic visuals.
However, despite its impressive array of storytelling techniques, the piece fell short at actually telling a story. The characterisation was as two-dimensional as the set and there wasn’t enough character development to make the audience really care what happened to their hero and heroine at all. Whilst I completely appreciate the difficulties of compressing a complex story into a short amount of time, the piece really did suffer by paying more attention to impressive visuals than to the story itself.
There were some lovely moments in the show where the visuals and stage action really came together, but these moments were too few and far between to create the necessary magic for the audience. Daniel Ings made a very watchable Howl however, with buckets of charisma and delightfully over the top acting. Indeed there was an element of pantomime to the piece (no bad thing in my book) but it was lacking the joy and life which makes a pantomime so fun to watch.
Howl’s Moving Castle was very watchable but it lacked that magic touch to get me in the festive mood.
Collette McCarthy TheatreFix Reviewer
Howl’s Moving Castle plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 January.