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Sputnik Sweetheart | Arcola Theatre

‘Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?’ This is the philosophical question posed by Haruki Murakami’s protagonist K in his short novel Sputnik Sweetheart and, although we may not phrase it so elegantly, it is a question which many of us grapple with.

In Sputnik Sweetheart, adapted from Murakami’s novel by playwright Bryony Lavery and directed by Melly Still, we are introduced to Sumire (Millicent Wong), a struggling young writer obsessed with classical music and Kerouac, and our narrator K (Naruto Komatsu), who is obsessed with Sumire.

Sumire believes she needs to have a love affair in order to write something truly brilliant, but once she does become infatuated with the much-older Miu (Natsumi Kuroda) she finds she is unable to write at all. This infatuation has consequences which leave Sumire more literally a ‘sputnik’, lost in time and space, and K searching for her.

Natsumi Kuroda as Miu is a standout performer, especially in a confronting scene in which she tells Sumire a story from her past. Millicent Wong as Sumire is also an expert in grabbing the audience’s attention, and perfectly portrays Sumire’s feelings as she stumbles through her first crush. Naruto Komatsu as K is also a solid performer, although he fares better in K’s scenes with Sumire than in his other interactions.

The cast is rounded out by Yuyu Rau as Mrs Nimura, K’s older lover, and Sadao Ueda as security guard Nakamura. Ueda brings a comedic touch to the production after the heaviness of previous scenes, while Rau, who is on stage for much of the play but given limited speaking time, uses her physical theatre and dance background to stunning effect in the scene transitions.

Indeed, movement is crucial to this production, and is used regularly to underscore the themes of connection and disconnection. The use of the telephone cord to tie some characters together and separate others, as Sumire makes her regular late-night calls to K, is a particular highlight.

The whole setup is surreal, and this play makes use of all the tools in its arsenal in order to put this feeling across. Beautiful animations from video designer Sonoko Obuchi are projected onto the walls to add additional dimensions to the storytelling, as well as the occasional touch of humour. Sound from Tatsujiro Oto and lighting from Malcolm Rippeth are also used to create the sense of confusion, moving between different times and places, between reality and memory.

This intentional sense of confusion and the quick skips between scenes taking place in different time periods or locations, or perhaps not even in this world at all, can make the play a little difficult to follow at times, but it feels as if this is rather the writers’ intention.

A poignant exploration of loneliness and connection, Sputnik Sweetheart should resonate with lovers of Murakami’s work and anyone who feels just a little lost in the modern world.

Sputnik Sweetheart runs at the Arcola Theatre until 25 November. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review


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