Bursting into the Vaults following a run at the Watermill Theatre and a short UK tour, Tristan Bernays’ musical Teddy transports the audience back to Elephant & Castle in 1956 for a rip-roaring adventure with the Teddy Boys and Girls. Backed by onstage live band Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts and dynamically directed by Eleanor Rhode, the show brings the best of both worlds as rock gig and theatre combine with a crash and a bang.
Teddy and Josie don’t have much, but they’re determined to make the most of their Saturday nights. After meeting by chance in the ruins of a church that has been demolished by the Blitz, Teddy disregards the violent warning of Josie’s giant of a blind date (Tully) and follows them to the cinema. After a lot of unwanted advances, Josie eventually manages to escape from Tully and is reunited with Teddy – when they discover they share an enthusiasm for Johnny Valentine’s music they hatch a plan to rob the money that will get them into the venue of a secret gig. But with the night on a knife edge, will they make it through in one piece?
This show actually first ran at Southwark Playhouse three years ago, but this couldn’t be a better time to revive it. The parallels between the 1950s and now are quite striking: a youthful generation growing up in austere and tense times, misunderstood and belittled by their elders. With the future looking bleak, frustrations spill out into more and more suburban violence. Bernays’ punchy verse script captures the urgency of the time, but gives it a playful edge. Put together with Dougal Irvine’s fantastic rock ‘n’ roll compositions for The Broken Hearts, the result is a gutsy show with depth – and a bit of a kick!
Once again the Vaults comes up trumps in the immersive stakes, plunging you straight back into post-war Britain as soon as you get in the door, with danger signs and rubble strewn about the bar area. Max Dorey’s designs are striking, period advertising adorning the walls and a range of typical 50s costumes (Holly Rose Henshaw) on display – of course including a pair of sharp Teddy suits for the leads.
It wouldn’t be complete without some dance moves, and Tom Jackson Greaves brings some absolutely breathtaking choreography to the party. A group of us were lucky enough to be taught a brief routine beforehand incorporating some iconic rock ‘n’ roll moves, Jackson Greaves enthusiastically putting us through our paces to Dance Off The Blues. The amount of work that goes into even a short burst like this is incredible, and when exciting lifts are also added into the mix you can only imagine the amount of strength & stamina that’s required to pull this off on a nightly basis.
Dylan Wood, Freya Parks, Harrison White and Andrew Gallo are a masterful outfit, giving great musical performances as well as having fun with their characters (Gallo as Sammy ‘The Sticks’ Smith is particularly mischievous). Leading the way as Josie and Teddy, Molly Chesworth and George Parker are magnetic. They have attitude, energy and comic delivery in spades, as well as great chemistry and the ability to change the mood at the flick of a switchblade. You absolutely feel their frustrations and are rooting for them from start to finish.
My verdict? A gutsy show that’s full of spirit & fight, and soundtracked to perfection by a rocking live band – one of the best original British musicals out there!
Teddy runs at the Vaults until 3 June 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts: Songs from Teddy the Musical is available now on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.