Hidden off Camden High Street is a former church which boasts a plaque reminding us of a public sewer running underneath, and this is the Theatro Technis, a laid-back venue with a friendly vibe.
I was invited to review Sushi Girls, the new play by Tony Leliw, a play described as a comedy about Japanese exchange students staying with a London family.
Anton (based loosely on the writer), isn’t sure about foreign students, and refers to Ichika and Shizuko as “Itchy and Scratchy” before they arrive, assuming they will be quiet and polite. He slips into the Cockney idiom at times of stress.
Anna, the wife, is more pragmatic, thinking of the money they will bring in to their home. When the students arrive, Ichika seems stereotypically Japanese, wearing a kimono and bowing to her hosts, but Shizuko is spoiled, a brat in Gucci heels, dismissing both hosts and house and planning to spend her money on frivolities like a £900 ‘Golden Burger’ and tea at the Ritz.
With two sets side by side (dining room and students’ bedroom), a garden suggested by lighting and sound effects, and off-stage kitchen and bathroom, the staging makes the most of the floor space – although the pacing between scene changes needs to be tightened up a bit to keep things moving.
Act one has more than a hint of 70s sitcom in its culture clashes and stereotypes on both sides, Japanese and English. However the characters of the students are well-defined, and these are good leading roles for Rina Saito and Shina Shihoko Nagai.
In act two we follow Itchika’s fortunes when she decides to make a new life in England, and the play moves from the comic into the tragic – for me, a scene of mistaken identity didn’t work, but Nagai and Keegan excel in a King’s Cross plot which involves a mysterious man, a ball, a fight, a moment of reflection, and a touching song about a butterfly.
Sushi Girls isn’t quite what I expected, as the Cockney aspects of the student’s adoption of English is peripheral, and the growth of all the characters to accept and understand each other seems to transcend the comedy, but I enjoyed the piece, and was particularly struck by a bit of direction where a hug from one of the girls to the other was mirrored later on in a different context.
Ultimately, Sushi Girls is about friendship, family, and in its ending, just a little bit of fishy fantasy.
Sushi Girls ran at Theatro Technis from 25-27 July. Photo credits by Anna Lukanina.