In Francis Turnly’s play ‘Harajuku Girls’ we are invited to explore the world of Japanese teenage girls, cos-play and image clubs all centred round the Harajuku area of Tokyo. Our guides into this world are three recent school leavers awaiting their results: Mari who dreams of going to Drama School contrary to her father’s expectations, Yumi who will do whatever her father wants and Keiko who wants to have fun and make money at the same time.
“We are young, this city belongs to us.” Keiko, may well believe this when she says it, but the clear impression is that in Harajuku, it is the young girls that are being exploited, by sweaty married men who reward their teenage mistresses with presents in a ‘compensated relationship’. Then in the Image Club, where the exploitation becomes corporate but the financial rewards are considerable.
Almost every interaction between male and female seems to be a sexually charged power play until we reach the interval when Turnly’s script neatly switches the grim expectations. In the second half there are fewer surprises: The downward spiral and parental discovery are the expected, and delivered scenes. However, the revelation of this production is not the plot but an actor. Here Mari’s father, played by Nomo Gakuji, delivers a stunning performance with such fierce intensity that his unsympathetic, patriarchal and hypocritical character leaves the strongest and deepest impression. Sadly the poor cue-bite and uncertain pauses from other actors in the company give the impression that this production was still stuck in the rehearsal phase on Press Night.