Pledge of Allegiance

I was lucky enough to spend a few days in London last week, with my boyfriend Ben. Being the theatre-obsessed gays we are, we naturally managed to squeeze three shows into two days.

The first of these was Allegiance at the Charing Cross Theatre. After a run in Broadway in 2015-16, the show has transferred to London for a limited run, with its original star – Star Trek‘s George Takei – returning to his role.

The theatre itself was interesting, located under the railway arches on the approach to Charing Cross station – the play was punctuated by the rumbling of trains over our heads at regular intervals. The seating was arranged in an almost ‘in-the-round’ layout, with the audience either side of the stage. We actually had to walk across the set to reach our seats.

Set of Allegiance, showing barbed wire and huts of an internment camp. The audience sits either side.

Allegiance recalls the tale of the 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent who, upon the outbreak of war between the USA and Japan, were rounded up and forcibly relocated to internment camps. The show centres on the Kimura family, who are uprooted from a happy life on a Californian farm to be interned alongside many others in dusty rural Wyoming. Conditions in the camp are severe, with poor food, no medicine and military discipline.

The family try to make the best of things, employing the Japanese expression Gaman (roughly translated as “perseverance”) to comfort each other. However, divisions soon appear between the idealistic young man, Sammy Kimura, who wants to do military service to prove his loyalty to the United States, and the rest of his family. Matters are exacerbated by Sammy’s growing relationship with the camp’s nurse, Hannah, while Sammy’s sister Kei has fallen for a resistance leader. Things come to a head when the Americans try to force the internees to swear a “loyalty oath”, which many are understandably reluctant to do after their brutal treatment.

The play is in large part inspired by the personal experience of George Takei, who spent part of his childhood in an internment camp. Takei stars in a dual role, as the elder Sam Kimura in “present-day” scenes that bookend the show, and as Ojii-Chan, Sammy’s grandfather, in the 1940s-set scenes. Given his advancing years, he doesn’t do much singing and dancing, but is wonderfully sprightly in his role as the respected elder of the family.

Telly Leung reprises his role from the Broadway production as the younger Sammy. He gives a wonderful energetic performance; I wasn’t surprised to see a long list of Broadway credits in the programme. The programme also reveals he lives in New York City with his husband. Awww.

Yes, I follow him on Instagram now. Ahem.

The cast is so good it’s actually difficult to single out anyone for praise, but I need to mention Aynrand Ferrer as Sammy’s sister Kei, and Megan Gardiner as Hannah the nurse, who are both excellent.

Going into the show, I was puzzled as to how a show about internment camps could be described as “uplifting” on the posters. Leaving the show, I understood why. This show tells the story of a dark time in history, but also focuses on the endurance of the human spirit, even under the most intolerable conditions.

Allegiance is on at the Charing Cross Theatre in London, until 8th April