‘Tokyo Rose was a legend, but Iva Toguri lived.’ It’s this simple yet decisive line, delivered just before its concluding musical number, which encapsulates the interplay between the personal and the political in this extraordinary production. Tokyo Rose is a powerful testament to the life and trials endured by Iva Toguri, an American citizen of Japanese heritage, who was accused of treason by the US Government in the aftermath of the World War II. The title refers to the nickname given to the female radio broadcasters trusted with spreading Japanese propaganda to the Allied Forces and prisoners of war captured by the Axis forces. Blending Iva’s personal journey of coming to terms with the duality of her heritage and upbringing as well as a larger socio-political narrative about the fallouts of war crimes, xenophobia and political prosecution, the show endeavours to bring forth a female-centric view of a male dominated period of history.
With an all-female cast and a new two-act full length format, this show offers an incisive insight into the anti-Asian sentiment that reared its ugly head during the war and unfortunately, still persists to date. For co-writer Maryhee Yoon, the production intends to serve as to recognize Iva’s and the community’s collective struggles for justice and reparations, whilst co-writer Cara Baldwin acknowledges the journey undertaken by the creative team and cast to stitch together a historical account from nearly 80 years ago. The show’s eclectic musical numbers and deeply nuanced exploration of Iva’s life story is backed by stellar performances from its ensemble who play multiple characters. Maya Britto’s brings Iva’s heart wrenching negotiation with personal beliefs and societal obligations to the fore with honesty and clarity.
Kanako Nakano’s earnest portrayal of Iva’s aunt and Lucy Park’s soulful depiction of her father allows the audience to glimpse into the fragility and spirit of familial relationships that contextualize the rawness of the political narrative levelled against her. This interspersion of the personal vs the political is further refined by strong performances by Yuki Sutton as the Iva’s trial lawyer and Amy Parker as the judge who presides over the treason case, with Baldwin completing the ensemble playing the role of fellow war prisoner George whose testimony proves pivotal in the trial.
Hannah Benson’s direction brings forth the intensity and layers of the narrative with a deft handling of the on-stage action and the implied emotional journey the characters undertake. Composer William Patrick Harrison’s masterful blend of traditional and modern genres lend to the intermixing of the story’s cultural and temporal aesthetics. This is further complemented by Holly Ellis’ light design that aids the story’s rapid shifts in time and space, most notably the use of traditional lanterns and theatre lighting to punctuate the drastic mood and rhythm shifts.
To summarize, Tokyo Rose is a wonderfully crafted ode to the struggles of an individual seeking equitable representation and reparation for subtle (and not so subtle) acts of discrimination levelled against Iva Toguri by the government of a country she believed was her own. It serves as a clarion call to remember (and if not, just acknowledge) the stories of war that are not painted in glory or patriotism for the nation that chooses to celebrate them.
You can watch Tokyo Rose at the Southwark Playhouse SE1 6BD till 16th October 2021. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show-whats-on/tokyo-rose/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 28th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★