Friday, January 28, 2022

The Two Worlds of Tokyo Rose


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After debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2019, Burnt Lemon Theatre’s musical, Tokyo Rose, with its full-female cast is now a fully-fledged two-act piece. Mask-wearing aside, with no social distancing in the audience this was as close to a pre-pandemic theatre experience I have had so far, writes Christopher Peacock.

Tokyo Rose is based on the true story of Iva Toguri, a Japanese-American citizen who in 1941 finds herself in Tokyo looking after her aunt when war is declared between the two nations. Ostracised by Imperial Japan because she wouldn’t give up her American citizenship, she leaves her aunt and gets a job on an English-speaking radio station broadcasting to prisoners of war. She ends up presenting ‘The Zero Hour’ where she feels that she can actually entertain the GIs, which is against the intentions of her Japanese paymasters. Drama ensues when trying to get back to America after the war and Iva becomes the attention of American law enforcement. She is charged with treason for spreading Japanese propaganda.  

The show has a blend of Japanese and English script which did make me wonder if the English at times is just a repetition of what is being said for the audience’s sake or whether there is more humour and depth to the script for somebody fluent in both languages. Usage of a small rolling set nimbly helps change scenes as the show jumps around in time and location. The modern choreography and electro music were certainly not used to place the scene or time and were quite jarring. There was strong singing from all the cast with some harmonies that impressed, while other ensemble numbers became overbearing and screechy. 

The second half plays out Iva’s efforts to defend herself and explores feelings of identity and nationality as this woman of Japanese heritage proudly identifies as American. There could be room for much depth and feeling here but the songs let these moments down with rather clichéd lyrics. The moment of drama with emotional weight came as Japan’s involvement in the war came to an end. The devastating nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki partnered with the loss of lives in internment camps holding innocent Japanese-Americans on US soil highlights that in war there is no real victory, only loss on both sides.

As an ensemble, the cast works well together. The acting at times was caricatured but Maya Britto as Iva Toguri brings a wholesome feel to a character who only ever thinks she is doing her best for her family and country. Another highlight was Lucy Park who makes the best of the male roles she takes on and adds a little comedy to the piece.

Tokyo Rose continues after its stint in London on tour with four more stops around England.

Southwark Playhouse 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD until 16th October. Times: Mon-Sat 7.30pm; Tues & Sat matinees 3pm. Admission: £27.50, £22.



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