Gobsmacked. This was the first piece of theatre in ages which left me open mouthed throughout. But let me start at the beginning....
I'd only vaguely heard of Howl's Moving Castle before I saw the Southwark Playhouse's latest show - although, to judge from the audience, it attracts fanatically devoted readers.
Entering Southwark's vault is a treat in itself. Cavernous, bare bricked arches, flaming torches on the wall, and a plain white cardboard set.
A white set. Very Peter Hall, I thought. But from the second the show started the set came alive. Highly intricate projection work, surround sound, video, music, narration, all spun together to create what I can only describe as "live action cinema."
It reminded me of the Las Vegas show EFx. Magic, mystery, and multi-media. Magical spells shot from the tips of magicians' wands - in EFx practical effects were used (fireworks, to you and I), in Howl the high-definition projectors cast a dazzling array of spells on to the set and even the performers.
The story was brisk and engaging - although some of the aforementioned devotees thought it should have been longer. The acting and directing first rate. Not knowing the story, I've no idea how much writer Mike Sizemore nicked from the original author - although I doubt she made jokes about super-luminal neutrinos - but it's hilarious and heartfelt.
My only criticisms? Working with special effects can be tough. Used too often (like the fire-demon jumping from place to place) they loose their impact - yet used only once (the surround sound dragon) feels like a wasted opportunity.
In places the music drowned out the performers - possibly due to the acoustics of the room. The actors funnel so much energy into their characters that it would be a shame to mic them up. Perhaps a slight fiddle with the volume knob?
It runs until 7th of January. Well worth seeing.