Pros: Tokyo life through a different lens – great costumes, a pop-tastic soundtrack, and a unique glimpse into Japanese culture.
Cons: Patchy acting and a predictable storyline.
When presented with the term “Harajuku Girls”, I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom Gwen Stefani immediately springs to mind. Settling down in the quaint Finborough Theatre, I envisioned a performance filled with inspiring youth culture, unique street style and empowered, expressive women. Although these elements were certainly present, sadly they were overshadowed by a somewhat uninspired story, which left me wanting more.
Set in modern-day Tokyo, Harajuku Girls tells the tale of three young women, fresh out of school, ready to chase their dreams. Held back from acting college by traditionalist parents, lead character Mari (Haruka Abe) decides to take advantage of her sexuality in a society where everyone loves a twisted fantasy, in order pay her own way. The play sees the girls toe the line between empowered female figures and modern day geishas in a way that could have been fascinating. But when paired with the all too typical tale of overbearing parents who think that tradition is best, it veers down the path of predictable.
Although the premise of the play is a promising one, I can’t help but feel that author, Francis Turnly has implemented a formula that has been rehashed too many times already. I can recount more than a few Disney tales alone that have covered the topic of young girls trying to follow their dreams against their father’s wishes (although admittedly Ariel was never groped for money). From the word go, it was easy to see where the performance was heading and, although there were a few occasions where I thought it might surprise, it stuck to its traditional route. I loved the notion of exploring the darker side of Tokyo, and with a little less emphasis on family drama, and more insight into the streets of Harajuku, the story could have been brilliant. As it stands however, the tale felt rather clichéd and flat, which was a real shame.
Story aside, there were aspects of the play that I found enjoyable. Whilst some of the acting was not quite as polished as it could have been, the stage design was commendable. I was impressed with designer Cécile Trémolières’ canny use of a few multipurpose props to construct a wide variety of scenes. Large screen doors were particularly well utilised, splitting the stage in half, both acting as a backdrop and creating an additional acting space. The play might have benefitted from a few less scene changes, however, as these disturbed the flow a bit.
It was with costume design that I thought the play really came into its element. Known for its cutting edge fashion, the Harajuku district of Tokyo is a catwalk of costumes, and this cosplay culture really came across on stage. I’m not very well versed in Japanese pop culture, so allusions to many of their beloved characters went straight over my head, but I appreciated a few Sailor Moon references and admired the quirky costumes all the same. Yumi’s all-pink get up, complete with neon cat ears was a real highlight for me. Well played by Kunjue Li, her innocent character’s wardrobe provided great contrast to the rather more risqué attire of her friends, as well as providing wonderful comic relief in the drama-laden tale.
I also greatly appreciated Helen Skiera’s pop fuelled soundtrack. I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing that can’t be improved with a little Taylor Swift, and this performance was no exception. It was a thrill to hear Western tunes translated into Japanese, as well as being a perfect way to add authenticity to the show.
All in all, the concept of the script had masses of potential, but much like the title characters, the superb styling and a fabulous soundtrack were held back by the story’s traditional mould.
Author: Francis Turnly
Director: Jude Christian
Producer: Nicholas Goh
Booking Until: 21st March 2015
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2015/harajuku-girls.php