Writer Maryhee Yoon talks about her show ‘Tokyo Rose’, to play at the Southwark Playhouse

An important time for highlighting the stories of the often underrepresented, as the industry emerges post pandemic, we’re witnessing more of these take to our stages. Debuting at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe to sold out audiences, Tokyo Rose tells the real-life story of American radio broadcaster Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, the show’s title, the nickname given to female broadcasters believed to have been spreading propaganda to the Allied Forces during WWII – of which Iva was wrongly accused. Two years after the show’s initial run, Tokyo Rose returns, starting off at the MAST Mayflower Studios before going on tour. Co-written by Maryhee Yoon and Cara Baldwin, the pair have re-worked the show into a two act, full length format. Ahead of tour, co-writer Maryhee tells us more about what inspired the team to explore the narrative further, how she’s worked with Cara to realise the show and what she’s taken away from the process.

Hi Maryhee, your show Tokyo Rose will embark on a tour this autumn. How are you feeling ahead of the run?

I am feeling so grateful, excited, and a little shocked to be honest. It almost doesn’t feel real. We’ve been working on this show for so long and so much of that work was done from home, so it’s really wild to think that real people will actually see it!

Tokyo Rose is a musical exploring the story of Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, a figure accused of spreading Japanese propaganda to the Allied Forces during WWII. What inspired yourself to explore this narrative further?

When Burnt Lemon Theatre initially came to me with this little nugget of history, I was instantly intrigued. I’d never heard a story like this – especially not in any of my history classes. I don’t think I realized how hungry I was to learn the real stories of the women who came before me in the AAPI community- until I started learning about Iva. Because of that, it was clear to me from day one that it was a story that begged to be told and that needed to be heard.

The show is co-written by Cara Baldwin, how have you both worked together to realise the musical?

Our process has consisted of far too many Zoom meetings, tons of WhatsApp voice notes, a massive Google Drive, and a lot of prolonged eye contact. We’d usually meet to create in-depth beat sheets, divide up the work, come back mid-week with offers, and go from there. There are a few sections of the show that’ve been rewritten probably 10 or more times, and I love that we’ve had each other for each of those rewrites.

Cara is an absolute dream. I think we’re super compatible writing partners because we have different strengths. It has always worked out that when one of us is stressed, the other is calm, which means we have really been able to lean on each other. We always joke about how terrible the show would be if we didn’t get on as friends, but it’s true!

Tokyo Rose was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe to sell out audiences, and now returns with a new 2 act full length format. What has the process involved in terms of adapting the piece?

Because Tokyo Rose is based on the true story of Iva IkukoToguri D’Aquino, we had plenty of material to work with. It was now a question of how much of her journey we could fit in, while still giving it space to explore the humanity and love that courses through it. We did a lot of in-depth research for a few months and then came together with the composer, William Patrick Harrison, and director/dramaturg, Hannah Benson, to start working on this new script.

In order to really access the story, we brought on dramaturg Jonathan Man to help us strip the script back and take our time examining the structure. We literally tore our script apart and mapped out the story on the walls, identifying the sections that wanted attention and growth. Using that and all our shared research, Cara and I could begin imagining how each beat could come to life. Since then, the book, lyrics, and music have gone on an incredible journey, with so many amazing people joining us along the way, helping us bring this story to life on stage.

What have you learned/taken away from working on the piece originally up until now?

I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome the first time around. But in order towrite this musical, I had to move past that. I spent so much time researching Iva’s story and examining her life, and I saw how powerful it is to have confidence in who you are and what you believe in. It’s an act of defiance to take up space in areas that have historically belonged to men, and that helped me stop feeling like an imposter. I learned, through Iva, that trusting myself is a choice and it’s now a choice that I try to make every single day.

What can audiences expect from the show?

To embark on an epic journey through Iva’s life, spanning time and oceans! Our all-female cast is incredible and sure to take your breath away. They bring this story to life with such beautiful precision, talent, and joy. As the music draws you into Iva’s universe, audiences can expect to leave hungry for more and eager to re-examine history as it’s told!

What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?

I have always thought of this show as my love letter to the ESEA diaspora across the globe, and to all those whose identity feels caught in the confusion of multiculturalism. I want audiences to leave recognizing the power in their own voices, and the choice and responsibility that comes with it.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Tokyo Rose will embark on a tour, starting off from Thursday 16th to Saturday 18th at the MAST Mayflower Studios, to find out more, visit here…

The production will show from Thursday 23rd September to Saturday 16th October at the Southwark Playhouse, Monday 18th to Wednesday 20th October at Curve Theatre Leicester, Thursday 21st to Saturday 23rd October at The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford and Monday 25th to Wednesday 27th October at the Corn Exchange Newbury.

Written by Theatrefullstop