The Southwark Playhouse’s family show for Christmas 2016 is Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the novel by Eiko Kadono and adapted for the stage by Jessica Siân. The story was originally made famous by the Studio Ghibli film of the same name, which is where I first encountered it. I was curious to see how the story would translate to the stage, so I went along to the show during the last week of its run.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is the tale of a young witch, Kiki, who has just turned thirteen and in the manner of her own mother, and other witches before her, must leave home and seek out a town without a witch in which to settle. Heading out into the world on her broomstick with her loyal familiar, the black cat Jiji, she finds a pleasant seaside town and starts up a delivery service, using her flying abilities to transport packages here and there. When she has an accident during one of her deliveries, largely because of her own silly behaviour, will she be able to redeem herself in the eyes of the town and make her first year as an independent witch a success?
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a hugely enjoyable tale for both children and adults, directed in a pacy, engaging and amusing way by Kate Hewitt. Eschewing fancy special effects, it uses clever lighting and set design (by Simon Bejer) to convey changes of scene, and fellow actors help Kiki to “fly”. Kiki herself is played by the likeable Alice Hewkin, while her cat Jiji is an adorable and characterful puppet (performed and voiced by Matthew Forbes). A talented supporting cast play a range of roles, transforming easily from one to the other: when they came out for their final bow, I couldn’t believe there were only six performers.
The play has a traditional message about working hard and never giving up, but it is never cloying or sentimental. A thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining show for the whole family.