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Review - Sputnik Sweetheart

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Arcola Theatre

Playing until 25th November 2023

Writer: Haruki Murakami

Adaptor: Bryony Lavery

Director: Melly Still

Designer: Shizuka Hariu

Photo Credit Alex Brenner

Review {AD - PR Invite}

Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s Japanese novel, Sputnik Sweetheart is narrated by a man we know as K (Naruto Komatsu). K went to university with and is in love with Sumire (Millicent Wong), who dropped out of her education in order to pursue a career as a novelist. However, the love is one sided and Sumire falls in love with an older woman, Miu (Natsumi Kuroda).

The play revolves around the loneliness and the desire of its three main characters. K loves and sexually desires Sumire, but this feeling is not reciprocated as she falls in love with a woman. Miu offers Sumire a job, describing it as a way to build her life experience in order to help her personal development as she explores what it is that she wants to write. However, Sumire is entranced by Miu, quickly becoming more interested in her employer and the trips they go on together than focusing on her novel. The two take a trip to Italy and then Greece, where Sumire makes physical advances on Miu, but was interrupted by Miu’s traumatic past during her time in Switzerland. Sumire disappeared after this incident, and was not found despite Miu and K’s search efforts.

The story is abstract, with all three main characters each have their own dream like encounter. Kuroda delivers a soft and fragile performance as Miu relives her sexual trauma, who sees her sexually available self as someone that is separate and has left her reality completely; thus, explaining her unavailability to physically satisfy Sumire. Sumire searches for a way to meet the sexually available Miu that is lost in dreams as she enters a dream like sequence in another world. Finally, K who is convinced that Sumire has entered an alternate dimension, temporarily enters a trance like state to pursue her. While appreciating that the concept behind these dreamlike sequences is deliberately abstract, the play does not do these dives into an alternate world justice nor stimulate excitement as these flash before the audiences and are rapidly concluded without substantial consequences.

At times, it is questionable as to whether the concept is too vague and abstract even for the actors as some of the delivery lacked passion, even when there should be emotional and physical tension between characters. The script is poetic and the language used rich and complex. While the actors melodically delivered their lines, these don’t convey the characters’ thoughts and communications in the most logical or straight forward way. In fact, the wordings are so complex that the actors have stumbled on the words on more than a few occasions. Sputnik Sweetheart is a blend of word play and expressive choreography, the movements and staging outshining the dialogues themselves. Through the use of dance and the cord of a telephone, the actors create moments of loneliness, the distance between them and how their lives are intertwined. At various point of the story, projections of space shuttles are shown, playing on the fact that sputnik means “traveling companion” in Russian and that Miu and Sumire provide companionship to each other for the shortest time and are destined to then move away.

This adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s play is complex, grounding parts of the characters’ thoughts firmly on reality before diving head first into dreamlike sequences. However, the overly abstract concept proves to be a challenging balancing act, ultimately neither the reality nor the dreams were sufficiently explored to make any lasting impact.

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