Review: Tokyo Rose (Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh)

A new her-story musical created by Burnt Lemon theatre company

Tokyo Rose
Tokyo Rose
© The Other Richard

It's definitely no bad thing that Hamilton has, since it first opened four years ago, spawned a raft of sung-through rap musicals. And while this new piece from the very talented Burnt Lemon isn't just that, it's almost impossible not to think of Lin-Manuel Miranda's mega-hit while watching it.

But if being a little derivative is Tokyo Rose's main problem, then that's surely no bad thing. Especially when the company has hit upon a story as intriguing as the one of Iva Toguri d'Aquino. A US citizen with Japanese heritage, d'Aquino got stuck in Japan in the Second World War because she had flown over, at the request of her mother, to look after her ill aunt. It just so happened that while she was there, war broke out and, with no passport (I think that may have been fairly normal back then), she was unable to get back to her home country.

Refusing to relinquish her American citizenship in order to become Japanese, which made her ineligible for a Japanese rationing card, she somehow ended up working on a radio station. Prisoners of war – of which she was technically one – were forced to broadcast anti-American propaganda, which she refused to do. But her boss – in a similar situation to herself – worked out a way of using intonation and nuance to make a farce out of the messages. At the war's end, her devotion to her country was not rewarded and she quickly became a subject of derision and hatred and was put on trial for treason.

It's not exactly a simple story, and yet Maryhee Yoon and Cara Baldwin's script gets the narrative across very well. An entirely female ensemble sing through William Patrick Harrison's hard-hitting, rap and pop-y tunes with an incredible energy and lots of talent. The cast of five all work together swapping roles, with Maya Britto starring as Iva. Britto works hard and has a versatile voice and the acting to go with it. Special mention should go to Lucy Park, whose incredible range gives several of the numbers a show-stopping quality.

Luke W Robson's set designs work well to create a nicely contained intensity in a small space for the Fringe. But although Tokyo Rose doesn't have the same sort of sass appeal as Six the Musical, it does use some punky, funky, well written song-narratives to tell a complex, real her-story that will make you gasp.