Tokyo Rose at Southwark Playhouse
Featuring a subject rarely covered in the UK, Tokyo Rose is an ambitious musical about the life and trials of Iva Toguri, an American of Japanese descent whose complex life story saw her at the mercy of the US justice system when she stood trial for treason following World War II. While the musical itself is short of being perfect, the cast are clearly passionate about the story, and Toguri’s life is so fascinating that it’s certainly engaging, despite its flaws.
The play’s focus is mainly on the trial and wrongful conviction, which serves as a framing device to tell Toguri’s (Maya Britto) life story in retrospective. After graduating from UCLA, she moves to Japan to look after her sick aunt (Kanako Nakano), but when the war starts, she is prevented from moving back home due to her Japanese background. To stay afloat she joins Radio Tokyo, where she is tasked with demoralising American troops via a broadcast, but unbeknownst to the Japanese, she instead does her best to help them.
Toguri’s life is a fascinating one, and the musical’s general plot progression and pace are entirely on-par, making it consistently engaging and interesting. While the details of the young woman’s life aren’t always accurately represented, the general gist is there, and everything is brought alive by a powerful cast of six, who are all energetic to the core. Aside from Britto, who portrays the title role, all performers represent multiple characters, and everyone acts with bravura.
Although the story is compelling, the Tokyo Rose suffers a little due to a detachment of the music from the action. The songs are poppy and feel contemporary, so they don’t really speak to either the setting or the mood that the plot seems to demand at times. They do drive the story forward, but in the end they aren’t particularly memorable, save for a few exceptions – pity for an otherwise well put-together show.
Tokyo Rose is nonetheless a highly engaging piece, and it draws attention towards a woman whose story deserves to be heard outside of the usual documentary or film setting. With a good production under director Hannah Benson’s wing and a strong cast, it certainly won’t disappoint any given audience.
Photo: Steve Gregson
Tokyo Rose is at Southwark Playhouse from 23rd September until 16th October 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: