Theatre review: Tokyo Rose, Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh

Tale of Tokyo Rose blossoms on stage

Tokyo Rose, Underbelly - Cowgate (Venue 61)
Tokyo Rose, Underbelly - Cowgate (Venue 61)

Tokyo Rose, Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh * * * *

Tokyo Rose is not quite ready for its West End close-up, but there was no mistaking the enthusiasm underneath the arch in the Iron Belly space.

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Maya Brito packs a punch as Iva Toguri, a young Japanese-American woman put on trial for treason after World War II, allegedly the Tokyo Rose of Japanese propaganda broadcasts.

An excellent all-female ensemble cast do a lively job in support; Cara Baldwin, who co-wrote, is nicely spiteful as a vindictive prosecutor, in some chilling courtroom scenes.

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All of The Scotsman's 5-star reviews from the 2019 festivals

Brito equips this lonely figure with a lovely voice; the wartime radio show The Zero Hour becomes the vehicle for rapping show tunes. Not all the songs nor sound levels are crystal clear; there’s work to be done on development of the piece, but Burnt Lemon Theatre have rediscovered a story that allows them to look again at the Pacific war from a woman’s perspective.

They appear to have stuck closely to historical fact – there was no one Tokyo Rose, and Toguri was indeed a convenient scapegoat – in the context of the shameful treatment of Americans of Japanese descent, fuelled by crude racism.

Toguri’s defence lawyer is powerfully portrayed making impassioned pleas as the net closes inexorably in, in the face of a court and a country looking to make an example; there’s a heartfelt denouement from Brito in the closing scene.

Until 25 August

Tim Cornwell