Partly a story of love and loneliness, partly a detective story, Murakami’s novel Sputnik Sweetheart is brought to stage by Tony Award nominee Bryony Lavery and Tony and Olivier Award nominee Melly Still. We spoke to Millicent Wong, who plays Sumire.
Tell us what Sputnik Sweetheart is about
In essence, Sputnik Sweetheart tells the story of a young writer called Sumire who is best friends with K. She unexpectedly finds herself falling in love (for the first. time. ever.) with an older woman named Miu and gets swept into her orbit.
But beneath the surface of that story I don’t actually KNOW what it’s about? I think there’s something about connection, loneliness, and letting go of the need to know everything.
In a more gothic vein, I think it’s about Dreams and Nightmares, and whether they exist – or belong – solely in your head. All told in the classic Murakami magical-realism way, of course!
Tell us about the adaptation, do you think the story changes by putting it on stage?
In my opinion, Bryony has adapted the text in a way that has enhanced its already lyrically juicy language. Paired with Melly Still’s ability to stage something that straddles the literal and not-literal, I feel like the story has sprung to life in its own unique way! Aside from these two powerhouse women, I think something magical always happens when an entire team of creative people who share the same vision for a story (whether stage or screen) work together, and bring their various opinions and lived experiences to the process. It’s like the base story remains the same, and adding real human beings to the mix only heightens the experience.
What attracted you to the character Sumire?
I can really relate to Sumire’s desire to create something that comes from her very soul – something true and raw and somehow beautiful in the ugliness of it all. Sumire still feels like an enigma to me. She feels things deeply and romanticizes the world around her, even when she doesn’t always feel like she belongs in it. She doesn’t always know who she is or what she wants, but she charges ahead anyway, and she’s never afraid to speak her mind about even the most complex of life’s questions. She lets words tumble out of her mouth, and she gives herself over completely to her favourite music. I really admire the many different sides of her and I think it’s okay if I never fully understand her – like when you love someone and know that there’ll always be something new to discover about them even after a lifetime of knowing them.
What’s been the most surprising part of the rehearsal process so far?
Melly (our director) has an extraordinary understanding of movement and how it can influence storytelling. As someone with very little professional dance experience, it’s been amazing to discover the stories that bodies can create together without any verbal communication or prior choices being made. It’s like listening to the dialogue between two characters that transcend words. Unearthing the complex bonds between them that no amount of text analysis can produce. PS I highly rate everyone going to their nearest contact improv drop-in class and giving it a go.
What do you think the audience will take from it?
Truthfully, I don’t know! I haven’t read Murakami’s other works but I get the sense that part of his stories’ allure is the fact that people who’ve read them are brought together in discussion of the many themes, symbols and questions that are left when the last page has been turned. However, I hope the audience will come away from Sputnik Sweetheart having been able to relate to the feeling of yearning for true connection in our big wide world, and the sense that once you’ve found someone who fills your heart and soul, who SEES all of you, you want to stay in their orbit and never let go. Two sputniks wandering through space into the unknown..
What’s your favourite line of the show?
Ooo. It’s not the full sentence, but: “Gazing out the tiny window into the infinite loneliness of space.” So juicy.
Sputnik Sweetheart is at Arcola Theatre 26 October – 25 November www.arcolatheatre.com