Entertainment & Arts

Howl's Moving Castle adapted for the stage in Southwark

Fantasy story Howl's Moving Castle is still, arguably, best known to cinema audiences as an Oscar-nominated 2004 Japanese animation, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

But now the original novel, set in Wales, has been adapted for the stage by Davy and Kristin McGuire, with music from The Guillemots' Fyfe Dangerfield and narration from Stephen Fry.

"I've been into all sorts of music since I was a kid and I've always loved instrumental music, so its just been about finding the right chance to do something," says Fyfe Dangerfield, who is making his theatrical debut with the score.

The singer and composer, 30, is familiar to British music fans for his work with Brit-nominees Guillemots and his top-10 cover version of Billy Joel's She's Always A Woman - used in an advert for High Street retailers John Lewis.

But Dangerfield has also written commissioned pieces of music for the Lichfield arts festival and the opening of Birmingham Town Hall in 2007.

Describing his work on Howl as "open and collaborative", he says: "A lot of the music in Howl, I've just been working on at home for the last few years.

"But sometimes it's hard to find the right context for stuff like that and as soon as you have a story to tell and a focus point, then it becomes easier. It's just nice to be doing something that's not revolving around my voice."

Directors and designers Davy and Kristin McGuire were acclaimed for their show The Icebook, which projected moving images onto delicately constructed A3-sized pop up sets.

Image caption Kristin McGuire (right) will also star in the show

The couple met Dangerfield while directing the music video for the Guillemots track I Must Be A Lover.

"Initially the idea was to make a big version of The Icebook but we would have needed a much bigger budget and a proscenium theatre," says Kristin McGuire.

"The vaults at Southwark are not like that, so we thought we should make it more site specific and work with the dampness and the brickwork."

Welsh story

Written by late British author Diana Wynne Jones and first published in 1986, Howl's Moving Castle won a prestigious US award for children's literature.

The animated film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2004 and went on to make more than £149m worldwide - making it one of the most successful Japanese films of all time.

Nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature, it also picked up best animation awards from the LA and San Diego Critics Circles.

However, Dangerfield says: "Some people may come expecting to see a stage version of the film and it's nothing like it really.

"I still haven't actually read the book but it's definitely based more on that.

"The book was set in Wales because the name is Howell, like the Welsh name."

His admission may sound like an oversight on Dangerfield's part, but he insists: "In a way I didn't want to [read the novel], it was partially a conscious decision because I've seen the film and this is so different and it's the same with the book.

"I just wanted to take my inspiration as directly as I could from the script."

Image caption The animation was produced by the same studio behind the Oscar-winning Spirited Away

Dangerfield's sentiments are echoed by Kristin McGuire, who says: "We read the book and then we watched the film but Davy stopped halfway through and said: 'I can't watch the rest because I want to make something new.'"

The novel tells the story of Sophie, an 18-year-old girl who unexpectedly angers the evil Witch of the Waste and is cursed to appear as an old woman.

She takes shelter with Howl, a strange but flamboyant wizard whose home is a magical moving castle powered by a fire demon.

McGuire says: "The set looks like paper pop-ups but the pages don't unfold like in The Icebook.

"We still project onto it but the aesthetics are different, there's colour in it. It is inspired by The Icebook but it's very different."

While Kristin and Davy McGuire brought Dangerfield in to work on the music, the Playhouse persuaded Stephen Fry to narrate the show.

McGuire is full of praise for Fry, describing his voice as his "working perfectly in the piece, such soothing narration".

The entire production has cost somewhere in the region of £60,000. Chris Smyrnios, the Playhouse's artistic director, says: "I've always wanted to realise Howl's Moving Castle on the stage but its fantastical story, which shoots from location to location, was just too complicated to physically create.

"I'd seen the amazing work of Kristin and Davy McGuire, in particular their magical miniature theatre show The Icebook.

"It was a perfect match and their unique visual style has bought an exciting and fresh take to Diana Wynne Jones' modern classic."

Howl's Moving Castle is on at the Southwark Playhouse Vault until 7 January.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites