Sputnik Sweetheart Q&A with Natsumi Kuroda
Sputnik Sweetheart, an adaptation of the novel by Haruki Murakami, is being brought to stage by Tony Award nominee Bryony Lavery (Frozen, The Book of Dust) and Tony and Olivier Award nominee Melly Still (My Brilliant Friend, Coram Boy). Partly a story of love and loneliness, partly a detective story, it follows Sumire, a young Japanese writer who can’t find the words to write, who styles herself on Jack Kerouac and who falls head-over-heels in love with Miu, a woman 17 years her senior. But when Sumire goes missing on a Greek Island, her best friend K’s search for her unearths more questions than answers. We spoke to Natsumi Kuroda, who plays Miu
What is Sputnik Sweetheart about?
Sputnik Sweetheart for me is about loneliness and human connections. The story starts with a young woman Sumire and her male friend K, who is in love with her. When Sumire falls in love with Miu, an older woman, the emotional tornado carries the characters (and the audience) to a surreal space.
Tell us a bit about your character
Miu is a multilingual Korean woman in Japan, running her own business importing wine from Europe. She is married but her relationship with her husband is unconventional. She looks independent and confident on the surface, but I think deep down she is extremely wounded and lonely.
How do you approach a character in an adaptation, have you read the book?
I read the book in Japanese a long time ago, but I didn't recall the story. I think it was beneficial that I read Bryony's script before revisiting the book. The script beautifully distilled the original story and allowed room for imagination. This enabled me to envision my own version of Miu before delving into the book's detailed descriptions, behaviours, and dialogue. At the beginning of rehearsals every day, we improvise movements while listening to the audiobook together. It's a joy to embody Murakami's poetic metaphors and discover new insights in the book. Additionally, the different emotions conveyed in two languages intrigue me. For example, Miu feels more feminine in the Japanese book than in the English translation.
There’s a lot that’s hinted at or left unsaid about Miu, do you have an interpretation of her are you leaving her ambiguous?
I have my own interpretation of her. But it’s for me to play the character. It might change as we are still in the early stage of rehearsals. I think everyone interprets reality differently. So I might leave her ambiguous in the end.
Do you create a backstory for yourself?
I prefer to imagine key moments in the character's life from her point of view, rather than creating a backstory independent from the script. For example, Miu says ‘I had a talent for playing the piano’. In order to say this line, I imagine the texture of the keyboard, vibration of the piano sound, applause from the audience, dazzling spotlight, sweat in my dress, and so on.
What’s your favourite thing about playing Miu?
I can relate to her loneliness very much. Also, being loved by Sumire is an amazing feeling. Working with Melly, the director, has been very insightful, and the script is simply wonderful. Plus, I appreciate the challenging opportunity to deliver a seven-page powerful monologue!
Sputnik Sweetheart is at Arcola Theatre 26 October – 25 November www.arcolatheatre.com