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A CurtainUp London Review
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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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