Not quite a musical, more a play with songs; and not quite a play, more free verse. The Southwark Playhouse’s Teddy may defy simple categorisation but it is easy to say that it is one of the more adventurous shows opening in London this week and consequently one of the more exciting. Not only that, get to the theatre 15 minutes early and there’s a pre-show gig from in-house band Johnny Valentine and The Broken Hearts – it’s all kicking off down the Elephant and Castle.
Tristan Bernays’ tale ducks and dives through the Saturday night experiences of Teddy and Josie, teenagers in a 1950s London still bearing the scars of a decade before but one in which an exciting, if dangerous, new scene is emerging. Coming out of a time of real austerity – 14 years on rations – the subculture of Teddy boys and girls spoke of rebellion, liberation and the determination to shake up the social order, all soundtracked by the newly revolutionary music of rock’n’roll.
Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby crackle with real electricity as this pair, caught up in the excitement of something new but also increasingly tangled in something much darker. Their incipient romance is sparky and sweet, lending the later twists a poignant gravitas, but real atmosphere comes too from Dougal Irvine’s songs. They don’t just sit alongside the action but thread their lifeforce through the story and the show as much as any traditional score.
Played live by a four piece band with the outrageously handsome Will Payne as Mr Valentine, Alexander Bean on sticks as “The Sticks”, Alice Offley on bass and MD Harrison White on whatever instrument he has to hand, their accompaniment works in a multitude of ways in Eleanor Rhode’s vibrant production to offer up a show that is as much a slice of London social history as it is a swinging good time at the theatre.