Tokyo Rose at Southwark Playhouse.
I saw Tokyo Rose in at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 and when I heard it was hitting London I was determined to get to see it and see how it had developed.
Tokyo Rose tells tells the true story of Iva Toguri, a Japanese American who was born and raised in America but due to her aunt getting ill found herself in Japan at the start of the war. Despite her best efforts to try to get home she was unable to do so and found herself instead working on a radio station that is broadcast to prisoners of war. At the end of the war she finds herself transported back to America and put on trial for treason. She struggles to prove her innocence whilst clinging onto her cultural identity.
The story itself had really fleshed out since I last saw it. The actual basis for the show is a brilliant source material and Burnt Lemon theatre have really managed to develop the person behind Iva Toguri and the audience really feel as if they know and understand her by the time they leave the theatre. I was gripped to know how it would end and the twists and turns along the way. I also adored the fact that this story was not told from a ‘white’ perspective. It was clearly centered about the Japanese American culture and this clash of East v West culture made the story even more gripping. It also made the casting so important and it was wonderful to see actresses of Japaneses and Korean heritage on stage in London. Combine with that the fact that this that the show was about a woman and told entirely by women, exactly the kind of story then we need more of in our theatres!
The show intertwines Toguri’s trial for treason with her life before and during the war. This was a clever method of storytelling as it had the audience wanting to find out what she had done to get there and then keen to find out the result and what happened to her after the trial.
On the night that I saw it the lead actress who plays Iva Toguri was ill and taking her place was Amelia Kinu Muus. Amelia was the associate director and had stepped into the role with just 4 hours of rehearsal. Whilst she had a book in her hand for much of the show it didn’t take away from the show at all and she delivered an emotional and determined portrayal of Toguri.
The rest of the roles were played by the other 5 cast members. They took on roles from Toguri’s parents, to the lawyers and judge at her trial and from her colleagues at the radio station to her aunt in Japan that she is sent to look after. Despite the 5 actresses playing numerous roles I was always easily able to tell who they were portraying. I particularly liked the love that her father was played with by Lucy Park and the contrast between Toguri’s Westernised ways and her aunt’s traditional Japanese manner as portrayed by Kanako Nakano.
The music for Tokyo Rose is also incredibly strong. Even several hours after leaving the theatre I was hummin the anthemic ‘Crossfire.’ The show is rooted in pop, rock vocals with a smattering of hip hop thrown in. Think of Six crossed with Rent and throw in a bit of Hamilton and then you get the music vibe of Tokyo Rose! The choreography by Hannah Benson (who also directed, undertook the vocal arrangements and M.D’s the show) and Amelia Kinu Muus also was firmly rooted in rock, pop music videos and the energy of the women on stage was bursting out through the choreography.
Tokyo Rose is exactly the type of show that London needs, told by women, predominately delivered by Japanese actresses and all with searing rock vocals and a gripping story.
Tokyo Rose is on at Southwark Playhouse until the 16th October. Find out more and book tickets here.