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A CurtainUp London London Review

"The bombed out church that hangs on the backstreets of London like a battered rib cage. " — Teddy
Joseph Prowen as Teddy and Jennifer Kirby as Jessie
(Photo: Darren Bell)
In a London still bearing the damage from the bombing of the Blitz, set in the Elephant and Castle, minutes away from Southwark Playhouse's Newington Causeway venue, Tristan Bernay's vibrant blank verse play seduces. The text is like poetry, full of imagery and rhythm. The fashion is that of Teddy Boys who wore Edwardian type dress, elegant long coats with velvet collars, drainpipe trousers and heavy crepe soled shoes. The choreography from Tom Jackson Greaves is jive with braced leg movements, exciting and spectacular.

For fifteen minutes before the play starts the band "Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts" play Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, inspired rock with skiffle edges. Two performers take to the stage, not as singers but as actor/dancers, both voicing the many characters in the play. It is a story of the attraction between two broke teenagers with dysfunctional families, Jessie (Jennifer Kirby) and the accurately named Teddy (Joseph Prowen). Jessie has a drunken father who doesn't approve of the way she dresses in Teddy girl tight trousers and suit jacket. Teddy seems more interested in combing his slicked back quiff and the upkeep of his image but has ambitions to be a singer like the mythical Johnny Valentine (Will Payne).

Director Eleanor Rhode gives us a fast and energized production with these two actors changing voices to enter slickly into other characterisations. They go to the cinema where Bill Haley's music "Rock Around The Clock" infuses the movie Blackboard Jungle and the police are called to quell a riot, when in real life in 1956, they danced in the aisles and tore up the seats but Jessie and Teddy escape into the area's bomb sites.

Of all the youth rebellions, the Teddy Boys were the first, adopting a distinctive dress to mark out their membership and with a reputation for violence, predecessors to the misunderstood generation of teenagers. Like other youth culture, music was important and it was music their parents didn't understand, rock and roll.

These teenagers had been born during the war and had all the privations of being child evacuees, of rationing, of the bombing and living in war damaged London. They played as children on bomb sites using them as dangerous adventure playgrounds defying all the Keep Out notices.

There are remarkable acting performances from both Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby whose ability to deliver the deep in your boots voice of the bullying thug, Tully, astonishes. I loved the original jive dance.

The songs don't advance the plot but reflect what the characters are feeling. The set has ladders to change the playing area and band singer Will Payne as Johnny Valentine gives a West End concert from the balcony. Max Dorey's set has all the rubble of a bomb site on the edges. There is humour and drama within the storytelling. At the end of the show, there is more music from the live band and the audience are invited to take to the floor.

Teddy is a creative and original piece, blending dance and poetry and vivid storytelling and performed with verve.

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Written by Tristan Bernays
Music by Dougal Irvine
Directed by Eleanor Rhode

Starring : Joseph Prowen, Jennifer Kirby
Band: Will Payne, Harrison White, Alexander Bean, Alice Offley
Choreographer: Tom Jackson Greaves
Musical Director: Harrison White
Set Designer: Max Dorey
Costume Designer: Holly Rose Henshaw
Lighting: Christopher Nairne
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval but 15 minutes of music before and after
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking to 27th June 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th June 2015 performance at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD (Tube: The Borough or Elephant and Castle)

Musical Numbers
  • Heartache Express
  • Needle in Your Groove
  • In the Back of my Cadillac
  • Oh My Dear Josie
  • Ready Teddy
  • Shake, Rattle 'N' Rail
  • Gal From Hollywood
  • Outlaw on the Run
  • Dance Off the Blue
  • Blue Without You
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