Tokyo Rose, billed as an Edinburgh Fringe 2019 must-see and having already secured a London run later this year, is an original musical exploring the life of Iva Toguri d'Aquino: a Japanese-American who became trapped in Japan during World War II, and was forced to broadcast so-called Japanese propaganda to US troops in the South Pacific.
Taking a complex legal trial and turning it into a watchable, digestible and pacey short musical is no mean feat; as a piece of new writing, Tokyo Rose shows real promise. That being said, it does still feel as though it has scope for dramaturgical development. In needing to pin down so much exposition, especially in its opening scenes, it loses out on establishing important emotional pulls; in being so adamant in presenting all the events that happened, totally unfiltered, it lacks a coherent narrative arc. Though the trial of Toguri d'Aquino provides a central backbone for the production to assemble around, it feels at best incidental in an otherwise chronological journey through any and all documentation of her life. Though, taking its dramaturgy at face value, everything else about its written conception - the book (penned by Cara Baldwin and Maryhee Yoon), the score - is engaging, Tokyo Rose is ultimately let down by a somewhat flat plotline. Equally, there was scope for development in the production’s staging; though, in and of itself, it works well with the performance space, it feels like it could have done with a little more processing beyond loosely mimed naturalism.
Carrying the production in the titular role is Maya Britto: an incredibly versatile triple-threat with palpable energy and enthusiasm, not to mention sheer technical brilliance. Britto sustains the energy in scenes that might otherwise drag, and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance in a story which is clearly being told from her perspective. However, by the same token, the performances of the ensemble feel comparatively restrained - understandably, given that they multirole through a boundless array of characters, but nonetheless slightly detracting from the performance as a whole.
Overall, Tokyo Rose is a broadly well-written piece of new musical theatre taking on a challenging concept which is definitely worth a watch. All this being said, Tokyo Rose is a musical which reflects a lived experience of racism which I, as a white person, do not have. I don’t pretend to be able to critically analyse the work from that perspective, but would direct readers to Ava Wong-Davies’ review for Exeunt.