JBL delivers for My Neighbour Totoro
Tuesday, 17 January 2023
jblMy Neighbour Totoro is playing at the Barbican until 21 January 2023
UK - Music, dialogue and vocal incantations, in their many expressive forms, set the backdrop for the enchanting world stage premiere of My Neighbour Totoro, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s hit production of the Japanese animation classic. Such is the 1988 film’s cult status, the short season at London’s The Barbican, replacing the animation with magical puppetry, broke box office records for ticket sales in a single day.
Award-winning sound designer, Tony Gayle, who specialises in musical theatre, took up the RSC’s challenge of designing the soundscape, with the often-beguiling audience sound delivered in all its component parts by a Harman JBL Professional VTX A8 dual 8in compact line array.
Through this advanced speaker set up, audiences are treated to a cocktail of sounds, from a 10-piece orchestra (nestled in the stage set’s tree house) combining contemporary instruments (including vocoder) and percussion with strings and brass, the vocal incantations of singer Ai Ninomiya and a mash up of Joe Hisaishi’s original film music as well as new orchestrations by Will Stuart. This was complemented by a meshing of Japanese and English lyrics and dialogue, as well as sound effects. All the while, the puppetry transports Studio Ghibli’s original fantasy film, adapted for stage by Tom Morton-Smith, to a magical spirit world.
The RSC approached him based on past joint collaborations, “They were looking for someone who could handle the commercial aspect and keep to what the original creators wanted.” Initial workshops were set up almost two years ago.
With so many different sonic textures to deliver Tony Gayle knew his choice of PA was crucial. “Joe Hisaishi is iconic and was one of the cults from 80's era of Japanese animation. This show means a lot to a lot of people.”
The more he watched the original film the more it became obvious that the JBL solution would be the right vehicle to broadcast the varied content with total integrity. “The music became more simple and beautiful with repeated screenings,” he said. “I knew the VTX A8 would do it justice and make my design a lot smoother and easier to put different genres through it. That really excited me and made a big impact.”
The show went out to tender and Autograph, who also enjoy a close relationship with the RSC, were the successful bidders, purchasing and supplying 14 VTX A8 elements, divided into two 12-box hangs. They also invested in four VTX B18 subwoofers, Crown I-Tech 4x3500HD amplifiers and all the requisite rigging. Hire Manager, Will McGonagle, said that having worked extensively with the sound designer on previous shows, they were keen to win this account. “We invest in sound designers as much as the equipment itself,” he stated.
Having carried out due diligence on the VTX A8, representatives from Autograph’s loudspeaker department undertook training at Harman UK distributor Sound Technology’s demo facility in Hertfordshire. “They came back very impressed,” he reports. “Pretty much everything sounds fantastic these days but what impressed them was that the rigging was very straightforward as were the dollies with the stacking lids - and production engineers really appreciate that.”
The bi-amped system is powered by four Crown I-Tech 4x3500HD amplifiers.
RSC’s Head of sound, Jeremy Dunn, and associate sound designer, Steve Atkinson, were also happy with the choice of line array. The latter readily endorsed the selection, having been introduced to JBL for a Stratford show at The Other Place back in 2018 (featuring JBL VTX F-Series point source, CBT, and AE Series), and been impressed with their “innovative approach to loudspeaker design”. He recalled, “I remember coming out thinking we needed to hear more of this product!”
Now My Neighbour Totoro is up and running Autograph are leaving nothing to chance. They hold tested spares of all sound inventory deployed and in the event of anything going down claim to be able to get replacements to a West End show within 40 minutes.
And when the show loads back into the warehouse towards the end of January, Autograph’s hire manager predicts plenty of future use for the VTX A8. “We have many enquiries for JBL and there are projects where we are asked to offer design services where the VTX A8 would fulfil the brief.”
Read LSi’s production feature on My Neighbour Totoro in the latest edition.

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