Review: Tokyo Rose, Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh Fringe

Tokyo Rose is a powerhouse of a production. Created by Burnt Lemon Theatre, this new female-led musical explores the wrongful conviction of Iva Toguri D-Aquino at the time of World War Two – the seventh person in U.S. history to be found guilty of treason. American-born with Japanese roots, she travelled to Japan just before the attack on Pearl Harbour in order to tend to her ailing aunt. But, when war broke out with the United States, she found herself unable to leave the country and disallowed from staying with her extended family as an American citizen. 

With her parents forced into internment camps, Toguri was forced to take work as a typist for Radio Tokyo. However, when she was recruited as a broadcaster for propagandist program The Zero Hour, her story takes a turn for the worse. Toguri’s trial acts as a framework for the piece, with the set made flexible in order to accommodate her plight. Designed by Luke W Robson, there is a keen attention to detail. Along with Erin Guan’s period costumes, the audience are pitched head-first into 1949, and there is no coming up for air.

The cast of five are explosive. Their voices are positively Aguileran (in particular that of Lucy Park), making the heat of injustice more profound. With original compositions by William Patrick Harrison, Tokyo Rose is dynamic and highly-engaging. Elements of rap pepper a score of memorable songs, which, like Toguri, defies convention. Choreography too, helps to maintain momentum – a canny decision from director and performer Hannah Benson. Microphone in hand, each actor calls on the theatre of the courtroom as Toguri’s situation becomes more extreme. 

Torn between her homeland and her heritage, Toguri (played by the electrifying Maya Britto), is on the receiving end of a monstrous blame-game. A tale told with perfect pitch, her case is prised open, exposing the astonishing malpractice of the justice system prior to and following arrest. Burnt Lemon have curated an impressive production, and are most certainly a company to watch out for. So, tune in and turn up the volume as loud as it will go: Tokyo Rose is in town. 

Tokyo Rose is playing at Underbelly Cowgate until 25 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.