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Review: GEORGE TAKEI'S ALLEGIANCE, Charing Cross Theatre

Review: GEORGE TAKEI'S ALLEGIANCE, Charing Cross Theatre

Set phasers to snooze.

Review: GEORGE TAKEI'S ALLEGIANCE, Charing Cross Theatre Backed by an extensive PR campaign that can probably be seen from outer space, George Takei's Allegiance has finally landed in London. The media attention has been focused on the marquee name attached to this much-anticipated musical, but its political topic is the real talking point here.

After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour, some 120,000 Japanese-Americans (including an infant Takei and his family) were forced to give up their homes and businesses, taken to camps hundreds of miles away and interned in harsh conditions. There, they were held as prisoners and asked to sign a pledge of allegiance to the US government. Only when Japan surrendered in 1945 did this imprisonment end.

For the record, our government was not much better. Following Winston Churchill's infamous cry to "Collar the lot!", Germans, Austrians and Italians - many of whom had come to the UK fleeing Nazis and Fascists - were rounded up and either put into internal exile or transported abroad. One ship carrying 1,500 internees to Canada was sunk by a U-boat; only one-third of those aboard survived. Two of the imprisoned Italians went on to form Trusthouse Forte and Berni Inns; there's a certain irony in those post-war bastions of the British hospitality industry being founded by men who were shown little in the way of hospitality themselves during the war.

This musical is obviously very personal to Takei and, despite its relative failure on Broadway where it only mustered 111 performances in 2015-2016, the 85-year-old Star Trek actor and social activist is determined to give his Allegiance one more hurrah. In the two bookend latter-day scenes, he plays the embittered soldier Sam Kimura, a veteran of three wars who has not seen his family in decades. In the chief storyline set in the 1940s, he is Ojii-chan, grandfather of young Sam (Telly Leung) and his sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer), and father of the headstrong Tatsuo (Masashi Fujimoto). When we first meet them, the family are being re-located to a dustbowl camp in Wyoming where they meet kindly military nurse Hannah Campbell (Megan Gardiner), the villainous Private Knight (Mark Anderson), and feisty fellow internee Frankie Suzuki (Patrick Munday).

While Sam urges others to show their patriotism, Suzuki - a character based on real-life political activist Frank S. Emi - encourages the camp to resist the oppressive tactics of the US government. In Washington, Mike Masaoka (Iverson Yabut) and his Japanese American Citizens League campaign to improve conditions in the camp. A divisive questionnaire forces the internees to declare where their national loyalties lie and lead Tatsuo and Sam to make a stand, albeit for different causes. The plot thickens when love rears its head: Sam falls for Hannah as does Frankie for Kei.

As the jocular elder Ojii-chan, Takei lifts the mood whenever it threatens to head into a dark place; Allegiance, though, is more mellow drama than melodrama. The human stakes are laid out through inch-thick exposition and worthy speeches but there's rarely any sense of genuine threat. Leung is pure pastrami for the most part, a beefy and hammy caricature of an impatient youth determined to prove himself a loyal citizen even if it means donning the uniform of his captors. It is fair to say that age has not improved Takei's acting ability but Ferrer is a revelation as Kei especially when singing.

What is obviously an important historical subject is let down by a frankly abysmal book from Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. Despite a meaty running time of 140 minutes, the characters are by and large so thinly drawn that there's a risk of paper cuts, while Kuo's hackneyed songs are in danger of putting the creators of elevator music out of business. More through Tara Overfield Wilkinson's commendable direction than anything to do with the script, the actors do superbly to find nuances in their underwritten roles but, much as we truly sympathise with their situation, there's not enough textual encouragement for us to care about the fates of Sam, Kei and co. to any significant extent.

A small handful of well-acted scenes and jaunty numbers does not a noteworthy musical make. It didn't light up Broadway and with London already awash with political dramas - not least Best Of Enemies, Hamilton and Mandela - Allegiance may struggle to succeed here too.

Allegiance continues at Charing Cross Theatre until April 8.

Photo credit: Danny Kaan

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