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By Lord Davies of Brixton
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Moving and uplifting: Lord Collins reviews 'Allegiance'

George Takei (centre) with fellow performers Masashi Fujimoto (l) and Aynrand Ferrer | photo by Danny Kaan

3 min read

This unlikely musical based on American actor George Takei’s experience of internment during the Second World War is a celebration of the human spirit overcoming adversity

Eighty years ago, George Takei was a child of five when he and his family were sent along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans to internment camps.

Hearing him on Radio 4 one morning talk about his family’s experience I was struck by his focus on how the human spirit can overcome adversity.

This was despite his family losing everything: their home and his father’s business. I was particularly moved by his reflections on his father’s frustration at not being able to care for and protect the family from the trials and tribulations of imprisonment for years solely because, as George puts it, they looked like the people who bombed Pearl Harbour.

The reason for his interview on Radio 4 was to promote the musical play about the experiences of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, which has just opened at the Charing Cross Theatre in London for a limited 13 week run. George Takei and Telly Leung reprise their roles from the Broadway production, with Aynrand Ferrer and Masashi Fujimoto as the other lead players.

Sitting in one of London’s smaller theatres under the arches at Charing Cross I felt slightly apprehensive about how such a dark episode of American history could be subject to musical treatment. Any concern I had was quickly dispelled mainly due to a brilliant cast especially Leung, whose singing was both moving and uplifting.

The play opens with the main character Sammy in his old age, played by George, being asked by a young woman to come to his sister’s funeral, who he hasn’t seen for 50 years. In reminiscing about the circumstances of his estrangement from her and his family the scene transforms to the 1940s with the young Sammy played by Telly.

I was reminded of the Home Secretary’s dangerous rhetoric referring to refugees as an ‘invasion’

We see a clash of generations and cultures which the songs and music reflect. However when life moves to the internment camp the conflict turns to how best to show their true allegiance to the country they have chosen as home and overcome the conditions they find themselves in.

The story that unfolds for both individuals and the community swings from despair to hope in equal measure but gaman – a term that translates to “we will get through this” – is the constant theme. Dances are organised with the object of bringing conflicting groups together. Young and old alike engaged in dancing ranging from swing to the jitterbug. The upbeat tempo and energetic dance style were fantastic. The play concludes, like the War, after Hiroshima when America celebrates victory and each internee is released and given $25 and a bus ticket.

As Takei suggested in his radio interview the story is a hopeful one celebrating the human spirit overcoming adversity. Despite feeling at times a little too melodramatic, the musical did work for me, being relevant to the world we now find ourselves in. I was reminded of the Home Secretary’s dangerous rhetoric referring to refugees as an “invasion” and dreaming of seeing refugees offshored to Rwanda.

As Takei argues, Allegiance is not a “story of our past but a warning for our present and our future”.

Lord Collins of Highbury is a Labour Peer

Music by: Jay Kuo
Directed by: Tara Overfield Wilkinson
Venue: Charing Cross Theatre until 8 April 2023

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