British youth culture of the 1950s is not a theme that has been particularly explored to much extent by playwrights, but Tristan Bernays taps into it with riveting effect in this vibrant and superbly performed play with music.
The setting is London’s Elephant and Castle in 1956 and Britain is in the grip of post-war austerity. Out of this comes what is perhaps the country’s first movement of youth rebellion, the Teddy Boys. All swagger and edge, knocking back against the conventions of their parents with their style of dress and choice of music.
What we have here is a fairly simple story of a boy and girl —Teddy and Josie — out on the town for a Saturday night. Despite the lack of money in their pockets, style is everything and the preparation for the evening’s festivities is as meticulous for the boys as it is for the girls: the hair just right and the clothes just so.
But the reality of life in these depressed surroundings is never far away and the lack of cash to flash a constant problem; trying by any means to gather together a few shillings for a pint and bunking into a screening of The Blackboard Jungle (the film that introduced Bill and His Comets) through a toilet window. While all the while the threat of violence simmers beneath the surface and the teenagers seemingly impossible dream of escape from their mundane lives is encapsulated in the music of their idols Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts.
But what starts as a night of fun and flirting is to have a sting in the tail.
Bernays’ sense of period is immaculate and his dialogue has a poetry and rhythm that is utterly compelling. In what is essentially a two-hander, Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby are superb as Teddy and Josie. They move effortlessly between the moments of humour and drama displaying an electrifying chemistry.
Will Payne fronts a tight little four piece as Johnny Valentine and Dougal Irvine’s excellent songs are woven into the narrative with telling effect.
Funny, poignant, edgy and hugely entertaining.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Photo: Darren Bell
Teddy is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 27 June 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets