Teddy*** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: June 9, 2015 in Theatre


It’s rockin’ and rollin’ down at the Elephant and Castle with this trip back to the days of Teds and Judys, Brylcreem and Brillo, times when Camp was just a brand of coffee. Tristan Bernays’ lively piece, more a long poem than a play, takes place in 1950’s London, still blighted by bomb sites and post-War austerity, but with a new dance and a new style of music drifting across the Atlantic, bringing with it a glimmer of light for youngsters longing to escape to a better life. Teddy and Josie are two such youngsters and they narrate the story of their chaotic night on the town directly to the audience, only occasionally interacting with each other. The star attraction for them is the American singer Johnny Valentine (Will Payne), who is appearing at a local club with his band. Bernays captures the feeling from films of the era like Jailhouse Rock that Rock’n’Roll was somehow a forbidden fruit and that teenagers tempted by it could get into serious trouble. It was as if the establishment was using forms of entertainment to warn rebellious youth to conform or else and, sure enough, our couple drift into crime as the evening starts to go wrong and what begins as an ebullient celebration of a bygone era becomes progressively more downbeat. Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby are absolutely terrific in the lead roles, both cocky Cockneys, jiving their way around a derelict church, the “flicks” and finally the music club. They both master the rhymes and metre of Bernays’ intricate verse superbly. Their tentative steps into the world outside their drab and oppressive homes are a joy to behold – a scene in which they have to stop jiving and dance to a slow number is particularly hilarious. Eleanor Rhode’s direction, with choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves, keeps the piece moving at a bouncy pace, but Bernays’ use of narration, rather than having scenes played out fully, results in several points where the production flags just a little. Dougal Irvine’s original songs are a pastiche of Rock’n’Roll, a musical form which may not have worn particularly well, with even Elvis himself now being better remembered for middle-of-the-road material. Teddy is an interesting and unusual work of theatre, most notable for Prowen and Kirby both of whom must be going places.

Performance date: 8 June 2013

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