By David de Winter – Sports Editor
It’s a Saturday night in Elephant & Castle in the 1950s. Teenagers Josie and Teddy are grooming themselves for a night on the town with the sounds of Johnny Valentine ringing in their ears over the airwaves. There is an air of post-war optimism in the two youngsters as they preen themselves in front of the mirror looking dapper in their drainpipe trousers, pristine shirts and smart ties.
And how apt that Teddy, the debut play from Tristan Bernays, is being performed in the very area in which it is set, at the Southwark Playhouse. With brilliant live music (composed by Dougal Irvine) provided by Valentine (played by Will Payne) and musical director Harrison White, director Eleanor Rhode and designer Max Dorey did an excellent job of complimenting the action with a simple but effective set, transporting us back to the era of dilapidated post-war South London.
In fact, there is a debate over whether Teddy is a play or a musical. On the subject Bernays says “He (co-producer Jim Zalles) saw it as a musical, but I’d seen it as a storytelling piece – and then we realised it was both!” In reality, the intertwining stories of Josie and Teddy are given momentum by the music but what really gives Teddy its drama is Bernays’ script. He writes in poetry form – rhyming, half-rhyming, alliterative language littering Josie’s and Teddy’s lines – and the effect is mesmeric. It gives the piece so much dynamism and draws the audience in immediately.
So what of the performers? Joseph Prowen is quite brilliant as cheeky 18 year-old Teddy. He plays the role with charm and energy but with suitable empathy so as to not just make him a generic jack-the-lad. Opposite him, Jennifer Kirby excels as a hard-nosed, no-bullshit Josie. Kirby tells Josie’s story with steel and determination but when she has to be gentle and feminine, she delivers too.
The music compliments the on-stage action perfectly. The four-piece rock & roll band are visible in the corner of the theatre, never stealing the limelight away from the actors but, when required, performing with charisma, attitude and no little skill.
I thought Teddy was dazzling theatrical experience. Not only is the piece wonderful in itself, there is a pre-show 50s dance class for the audience and, post show, the stage becomes a dancefloor as the band play some 50s classics. No wonder Teddy received a standing ovation. It thoroughly deserved it.
Teddy is showing at the Southwark Playhouse until 27th June. To book tickets, visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/teddy/