As soon as the lights go down on the final, haunting note of Tokyo Rose, I race out of the cramped bricked walls of Underbelly Cowgate. As soon as I’m out on the street, thrumming, I call my best friend, my boyfriend, my mum, desperate to talk to someone about how I’ve just passed the evening. None of them have time to chat, busy with life happening around them. I want to grab a stranger passing by in the street, a poor bystander with a flyer and ask: ‘Have you seen Tokyo Rose? Can I tell you about it? Can I, please?’
Tokyo Rose (by Burnt Lemon Theatre) is a harrowing, but determinedly fierce musical about Iva Toguri d’Aquino, the daughter of a Japanese immigrant family who identifies strongly as an American but is put on trial, falsely accused of treason against the States after World War Two. It’s a complicated true-life tale of propaganda and prejudice that critically analyses what the cost of cultural belonging is.
And, it’s presented entirely through rap and RnB music, which fuels the show with undeniable, electric energy. The court room scenes have us on the edge of our seats, silently begging for the opposition to fail; the excitement of Iva’s travels is infectious; her renditions of the American national anthem are gut-wrenching. It’s a show that gets up in your face and demands your attention, because this story has gone untold for too long and it’s time to listen.
Maya Britto as Iva is show-stoppingly talented, carrying the emotional struggles with ease through her performance. She is a joy to watch, and the rest of the cast are also incredible, often doubling – tripling! – up roles with sharp precision. Despite only having a few props, each new character is still distinguishable through voice and movement, and it’s very effective at creating the sense of double-crossing and ambiguity that Iva is victim of.
‘Tokyo Rose’ is a story for our times, with themes of fake news, injustice, and the policing of immigrants still unfortunately relevant. However, this shouldn’t deter you – it’s strength is in its refusal to sugar coat, and make you confront issues in order to change them today. Go and see it, grab a stranger off the street if you have to, and tune into the best radio station the Fringe has to offer.
Tokyo Rose runs until the 25th of August – buy tickets here.
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