Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Theatre review: Teddy

Another new British musical, although playwright Tristan Bernays and composer Dougal Irvine have gone for the more accurate description "play with songs" for Teddy, set in the 1950s but right in the middle of where Southwark Playhouse is today, at the Elephant and Castle. It was then an area full of Teddy boys and girls, the first post-war teenage rebels who'd grown up with rationing and defined themselves as Edwardian dandies to indicate that there was more to them than their poverty. But the places they hang out are bomb sites that haven't been cleared yet, and Max Dorey's set design reflects the grubby environment that the likes of Teddy (Joseph Prowen) and Josie (Jennifer Kirby) bring their own brand of glamour to (costumes by Holly Rose Henshaw.) The pair meet in a makeshift nightclub in a bombed-out church, when Teddy helps Josie escape the attentions of a thuggish admirer.

The pair have a wild night together, trying to scrape together the money to get into a club where their favourite American singer, Johnny Valentine (Will Payne) is going to be playing a secret gig.

Bernays' play is a piece of storytelling - apparently originally conceived as a monologue, then adapted for two performers - which Prowen and Kirby deliver with effortless charm. Kirby in particular is hard to take your eyes off with her strong stage presence, but both of them do well with the contrast between a cocky façade and the awkwardness that's actually between them.

Meanwhile Payne looks every inch the '50s heartthrob* as Johnny Valentine, who provides the music with his band the Broken Hearts (Harrison White, Alexander Bean and Alice Offley.) Irvine's songs are great, some of them recognisable pastiches of specific rock'n'roll classics, others feeling more original but all a lot of fun and performed with authentic enthusiasm - the music starts before curtain-up and continues after the bows.

The play largely has a comic energy but it also dips into an undeniable dark side, and Eleanor Rhode's production balances the contrasts well. Teddy is utterly successful at building its own identity, and all its elements work, but for me the highlights were Irvine's songs, brought to life by Payne and his band.

Teddy by Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine is booking until the 27th of June at Southwark Playhouse's Large Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (but music also starts about 10-15 minutes before the start time.)

*I didn't actually see every inch but would be willing to check

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