Sushi Girls – preview and Q&A

Sushi Girls, a new play by British-Ukranian playwright Tony Leliw opens at the Theatro Technis next month from 25-27 July.

It features a company of four actors: Mark Keegan (Anton), Kate Winder (Anna), Shina Shihoko Nagai (Ichika) and Rina Saito (Shizuko). It also features songs and sounds as if it will be an intriguing addition to this summer’s fringe theatre scene.

YouTube trailer for Sushi Girls

The play is based around Leliw’s experience of over two decades as a host family welcoming foreign students to London, who have come here to study English.

The play is “a rollercoaster of linguistic and cultural mishaps” and a tug-of-war between one student, Ichika who wants to study and stay in London, and the other, Shizuko, who does everything to sabotage the trip to be back with her boyfriend in Tokyo.

Sushi Girls poster

I asked Tony to tell me a bit about Sushi Girls, which I will be reviewing on the 27 July.

What should an audience expect when they come to see Sushi Girls? How would you describe the show?

It’s not very often when you go to the theatre, that you see two native Japanese actresses land major roles in a British stage play. So for this reason, our play is more out of the ordinary than others.

Being professionals, Shina and Rina speak with Japanese accents when talking English. When they converse with the host family they have a heavy accent, full of grammatical mistakes and mis-pronounciations, while when chatting amongst themselves, they speak clearly and properly, except when they do cockney, which is a whole new ball game.

Without giving too much away, our audience will be blown away when they hear the girls speak with a cockney accent, picking words up from Anton the host father, and host mother Anna getting annoyed, ‘when they rabbit and pork’ and don’t speak ‘proper’..

I am hoping our audience will be partially made up of foreign students, who will in a subtle and fun way learn about British culture, while our domestic audience will pick up on a few Japanese habits and traditions.

For those coming to our opening night (Thursday, July 25, 7pm), the first 50 will be offered a free shot of sake from Tom and Lucy, who run the Kanpai London Craft Sake Brewery. They will also get a chance to meet a Pearly King and Queen. Other Japanese beverages may be on offer from theatre barman Leo.

Why did you decide on the Theatro Technis as a venue? What do you particularly like about it?

I grew up in Islington, and as Camden is a neighbouring borough, I believe you should support your local nstitutions, otherwise they will fade and disappear. I did my first play You What? He’s Ukrainian at Theatro Technis, so it feels a bit nostalgic coming back.

Theatro Technis is on the doorstep of central London, so is easily accessible. It has a good bar, decent dressing rooms and an amphitheatre atmosphere with 120 seats. The theatre is run by a Greek family, George and Aris Eugeniou and his team of volunteers. As the Greeks invented drama, it seemed the perfect venue for my play.

Playwright Tony Leliw outside the Theatro Technis with the poster for Sushi Girls
Playwright Tony Leliw outside the Theatro Technis with the poster for Sushi Girls

Who are you aiming at with your publicity, social media, trailer etc. How can interested potential audiences spread the word further?

People who have studied abroad, been away from home, experienced a foreign language or culture, or are from a different country now living here, will relate to this play.

I specifically put this play on during the holiday season to attract tourists and foreign students. Equally, in this country is a whole group of host families who will be able to share in some of the experiences featured in the play.

I have targeted English language schools. Those that have been receptive so far include: Lemy School in Harrow, International House London in Covent Garden; and Tti School of English in Camden, who have made students aware of our play. I have also promoted my play through a Sushi Girls page on Facebook, created a dedicated website, Twitter account and shared information with the APL – UK Host Family Support Group.

I am hopeful we will attract a large Japanese following. The Japanese Embassy in UK has included our play in its Japan-UK Season of Culture and our play has been listed by The Japan Society of the UK. Nestle Japan have allowed us to use their Matcha KitKat logo on our poster.

Doki Japanese Tableware in Harrow, my local dry cleaners and Chinese take-away Ming Sing, have put our posters up. Sophie’s Japan Blog interviewed me and our director Antti Hakala. During our last rehearsal we put up a promotional video on YouTube called ‘Sushi Girls coming to London’.

I hope that those that can’t make it will tell their family and friends and share any information we put into the public domain through various social media channels.

Sounds as if you have covered all the bases! What’s next for you after Sushi Girls?

I would like to revisit my last play UktheNuke. It’s a political satire on recent and current political events in Ukraine. It’s about a super hero, set in the future, who liberates his country after it gives up its nuclear weapons and is invaded.

UktheNuke reclaims his country’s territory by making his enemies nuclear weapons redundant with his army of hackers.

Thanks to Tony for sending through his answers!

You can follow the social media accounts associated with Sushi Girls on Facebook, Twitter, and the show also has a dedicated website.