Sputnik Sweetheart

Bryony Lavery, from the novel Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Arcola Theatre in partnership with the Japan Foundation
Arcola Theatre

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Millicent Wong as Sumire, Yuyu Rau as Mrs Nimura, Natsumi Kuroda as Miu Credit: Alex Brenner
Millicent Wong as Sumire, Natsumi Kuroda as Miu Credit: Alex Brenner
Naruto Komatsu as K Credit: Alex Brenner

I have not read Hanukkah Murakami’s novel Sputnik Sweetheart, but the premise of a male writer using a male narrator as the lens through which to experience the story of two women left me somewhere between piqued and curious.

As it is, this is neither a story about women nor men but an exploration of misdirected love, unrequited sexual desire and the power of connection.

Our unreliable narrator is K, a young teacher, the best friend of annoying would-be writer Sumire, with whom he is also somewhat in love. He finds solace in a questionable make-do relationship whilst the self-absorbed Sumire is voluntarily celibate from lack of interest and inquiry.

Sumire‘s life changes track abruptly when she comes under the influence of the elegant Miu, giving up all attempts at writing to work in Miu’s office.

As the Sputnik, the journey companion, of the title, Sumire accompanies Miu on a business trip to Europe that extends to a week’s holiday in Rhodes where she goes missing. Miu summons K to the island and it looks tantalisingly close to becoming something of a thriller when the points switch the direction of travel unexpectedly sharply, and not for the last time in this engrossing if cryptic 80 minutes.

Bryony Lavery’s poetic presentation of the novel’s text is mellifluously easy listeningits silver-tongued smoothness camouflaging Murakami’s unresolved trains of thought that can dematerialise, leaving barely a vapour trail.

Under Melly Still’s direction, graceful choreography takes over where words could not do justice to the feeling, providing an elusive undercurrent that suits the shifting realities embedded in the narrative.

Delightful monochrome animation from Sonoko Obuchi projected onto the back wall welcomingly represents the more down-to-earth, whilst designer Shizuka Hariu makes a phone box the focus of the set where the action in and around it often takes on magical qualities.

It is another ingredient in a mix short on anchor points that deliberately capsizes normality leaving you uncertain what force it is that has impelled the protagonists’ hand, and why it is that this largely unfathomable fantasy has the capacity to be so haunting.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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