Tweetingit: 4* Post-war Britain at the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll. Masterful storytelling creating a social document of 50s Britain, and a great live band too!
One of many delights visiting the Vaults in Waterloo is the complete lack of pretension; an earthy quality that doesn’t stand on ceremony and presents the venue as an example of real life. I was well acquainted with the graffiti tunnels around the corner but this was my first time at the theatre in Launcelot Street. There is nothing to suggest a theatre was at the end of this cul de sac aside from a handwritten sign that Teddy was playing tonight. Wrought iron gates protected the theatre facade with the entry point via a hinged door. There was no attempt to disguise its origins; it looked and felt like a derelict factory. I walked through a poorly lit passageway into the bar area. This similarly felt like a bomb site with the rusting shell of a car in one corner and a dusty piano in the other. Steps led up to the main theatre area where house band the Broken Hearts were already playing. The tiered bucket seating was comfortable but felt like they’d been reclaimed from a skip (I’m guessing they came from an old cinema!) The musty smell of rubble mixed with dry ice to create an authentic view of post-war London in the 1950s.
It’s just as well because this show tells the story of Teddy and Josie, a Teddy boy and Teddy girl out on a Saturday night in the Elephant & Castle. It’s 1956, rationing has just ended and youth culture has invented the generation gap. The first rock ‘n’ roll film Blackboard Jungle is on release; Bill Haley and his Comets are burning up the charts with see you later, alligator and Elvis Presley, a truck driver from Memphis, Tennessee has a single out called heartbreak hotel. Teddy and Josie are dressed up to the nines looking for a good time; their eyes inevitably meet but she hasn’t escaped the attention of Tulley, self-proclaimed king of the Teds. He’s got his eye on Josie and sees Teddy as a rival. He pursues the pair from the cinema to local pubs, but they will hopefully find refuge in a nightclub hosting a gig by Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts. Will Tulley catch up with the love-struck pair; and how exactly will Teddy and Josie get into the nightclub without any money?
Responsibility for telling the story falls squarely on the shoulders of Teddy (George Parker) and Josie (Molly Chesworth) and they do a tremendous job, using every inch of the stage to interpret key scenes and other characters in the story. The plot works effectively with Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts, who provide a great soundtrack and songs to help the narrative. The choreography is tight and energetic as the story winds up to a heady conclusion. Dylan Wood was excellent as Elvis prototype Johnny Valentine while Harrison White (guitar/piano), Freya Parks (bass) and Andrew Gallo (drums) were a solid well-drilled unit. It was a thoroughly entertaining romp exploring the Teddy boy culture; the only niggle for me was the annoyingly smart assed script. Although literate and articulate, it relied too much on rhyming couplets (e.g. Tulley won’t sully this moment) which, for me, was irritating after a while.
Author: Tristan Bernays
Music: Dougal Irvine
Director: Eleanor Rhode
Musical Director: Harrison White
Choreographer: Tom Jackson Greaves
Producer: Sarah Loader for Snapdragon Productions and the Watermill Theatre
Booking Link: https://www.thevaults.london/teddy
Booking until: 3 June 2018