The classic advice for writers is to ‘write what you know’. That’s exactly what journalist and playwright Tony Leliw has done in creating his new comedy Sushi Girls. Find out how playing host to students and visiting Japan led to the new play that runs as part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture, the book your tickets!
Sushi Girls runs at Theatro Technis from 25 to 27 July 2019.
Shizuko is the daughter of a multi-millionaire Tokyo restaurant owner who has sent her to London to break up her relationship. Her flatmate Ichika is a a polite girl from a poor family. Shizuko wants to get home and will do anything to make that happen. How far will she go? Are the host family in danger? Host father Anton doesn’t like his student lodgers anyway, and his wife Anna thinks there’s more to Ichika than meets the eye.
Rina Saito takes the role of Shizuko, with Shina Shihoko Nagai as Ichika. Kate Winder and Mark Keegan play English host family Anton and Anna. Antti Hakala, who also directs, completes the cast as Jimmy.
Sushi Girls is Leliw’s third play, following the autobiographical You What? He’s Ukranian, which previously ran at Theatro Technis, and UktheNuke.
The Japan-UK Season of Culture aims to showcase Japan’s multi-faceted appeal, taking in culture, art, innovation and technology. The season also includes Shakespeare Company Japan’s Ainu Othello, running at Tara Theatre and Origami Soundscapes X The Crane at Arcola Theatre.
Audiences heading to see the opening performance of Sushi Girls on 25 July may get an extra Japanese treat. Kanpai London Craft Sake Brewery are offering a free shot of sake to the first 50 arrivals that night!
Tony Leliw on Sushi Girls
What inspired you to write Sushi Girls?
Both me and my wife Anna have been a host family to foreign students for more than 20 years, so it seemed appropriate to write about something I had a lot of knowledge about. I was also lucky enough to visit one of our past Japanese students in Tokyo, Keiichirou Ota, who helped finance my previous play. He showed us around and I was so impressed with what I saw, there was no question but that I should write something about Japan.
Why did you choose two Japanese students as your central characters?
Originally I wrote a series of sketches representing students from different episodes. For example there was Edgar from Mexico who never did his homework and paid someone else to do it for him. Or there was a Korean student who cooked a cabbage dish that left a foul smell in the house for days. Then there was a girl from Kazakhstan, who wanted to elope with an Italian student.
The reason I went for two Japanese girls was because students from Japan were the best students we ever had. They were polite, respectful, never ate much and were very quiet. However, to give drama to my play, I had to make one of them bad, which for me was hard to write.
How much is drawn directly from your own experience hosting foreign students?
I would say that a lot of the material in the play comes from my own experience with hosting foreign students. In fact, it wouldn’t be difficult to write a sequel.
You’ve worked with director Antti Hakala before – what does he bring to the production?
Antti has a lot of experience working in comedy, so he seemed the perfect choice to bring on board. His witty sense of humour appealed to me and when I showed him the script he was able to offer some interesting ideas which helped make the script that much funnier. Over the last few weeks, as director, his stage directions and script tweaks have helped to raise the play to a much-higher level. Working closely with our cast, he has helped to inspire them and bring out the best in them.
How does it feel to be part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture?
I am very humbled that our play has been selected to be part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture. It would be lovely to take this play to Japan. If there are any sponsors that are interested in this project, which helps foster closer relations between our two countries, I would be happy to talk to them. Not only has the Japanese Embassy in UK been gracious in giving us a platform, but so has the Japan Society in UK.
Other organisations have also supported us like Tom and Lucy, who run Kanpai London Craft Sake, and will be offering the first 50 people coming to the play on our opening night a free shot of sake. Because the play also represents British culture, we’ve got representatives from London’s Pearly Kings and Queens Society attending too.
How do you feel about staging the production at Theatro Technis?
I staged my first play You What? He’s Ukrainian at Theatro Technis in Camden and it was such a success that I vowed to come back again. The venue has 120 seats and it’s a stone’s throw away from Mornington Crescent Station, which makes it an ideal location.
What can audiences expect from a trip to see Sushi Girls?
If you come on the opening night, you might be lucky enough to get a free shot of sake, so you will be in high spirits before you even sit down to watch my play. The purpose of Sushi Girls is to educate and entertain in a fun way.
You get to feel what it’s like being a student in a foreign country, where you are now being looked after by a couple of people who speak a different language, feed you strange food and whose traditions and culture are totally alien to yours.
On the other hand, two students, complete strangers, have just entered your home and you’ve now got to live with them for the next two weeks. You have to fight for the toilet and bathroom and remind them that your house is not a hotel. And that’s just the half of it.
The play also has two songs – one, a happy-go-lucky title track aptly named Sushi Girls – written and performed by Toon Moon Min, our musical director, which you can hear on our promo on YouTube. The other, a more sombre song, My Beautiful Butterfly, lyrics written by me, melody composed by my daughter Roxanna.