Watermill Theatre - Teddy
11th January to 10th February 2018
Review from Newbury Theatre.
The 1950s saw the arrival of rock ’n’ roll, teenagers and Teddy boys (or Teds) and their female equivalent, Judies, hanging around in gangs on bomb sites and arguing with their parents.
At the start we see the eponymous Teddy and Josie at home, titivating, pumping up their swagger to hide their insecurities, preparing for a night out, trying to avoid their parents as they go. The two meet and try to hide their attraction to each other under a hard shell, but she falls for his smile and he falls for her toughness. Both are obsessed with Johnny Valentine and his rock ’n’ roll band and as the evening progresses they get the chance to go to a select gig starring their hero.
Teddy is not so much a musical as a two-person play and a band. George Parker and Molly Chesworth play the kids, but also all the other people they meet on their night out. They do this brilliantly, morphing between characters seamlessly. The script, by Tristan Bernays, expertly captures the vibes of the era, but it’s in verse. No iambic pentameters here, but a much freer metre which keeps you listening out for the rhymes.
And the band plays on, interposing music into the action with some really good songs by Dougal Irvine capturing the ’50s mood – Gal from Hollywood was one of the rousing numbers belted out by Dylan Wood as the charismatic Valentine and backed by Andrew Gallow on drums (Sammy ‘The Sticks’ Smith), Freya Parks as the feisty feminist Jenny O’Malley on bass guitar and Harrison White as Duster Watson on lead guitar. Top class playing and singing, with a bit of banter thrown in.
Max Dorey’s set, enhanced by Christopher Nairne’s lighting, is a good combination of bomb site (some of us are old enough to remember Spangles and Camp Coffee, shown in the posters on the back wall) and radio studio. Director Eleanor Rhode gets the best out of her talented cast.
If the television warning, “this programme contains strong language” sends you reaching for the Off button then Teddy is not for you, but I loved it. Parker and Chesworth were excellent, bringing out Teddy and Josie’s hopes, fears, bluster and insecurity and showing great pathos at the end.
Teddy was on in London in 2015 and goes on a national tour after the Watermill. This unusual show is not what I was expecting, but it exceeded my expectations. Highly recommended, do come and see it.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Shake, rattle and rail at The Watermill
Teddy, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until February 10
Remember? Remember piling on the hair lacquer, slicking down the fringe, boys wearing brothel creepers and 'Edwardian' drape coats and continually combing back their Brilliantined quiff – and most of all the music, ah… the music… remember that?
If so, Teddy, by Tristan Bernays, will take you back in time, but if it means nothing, this will be a musical revelation that leaves you wanting more.
Times weren't easy in a post-war world, coping with ruined buildings and lives, little money and shortages, but teenagers still wanted excitement and Teddy (George Parker) has Josie (Molly Chesworth) and they are going out for a "whole night!".
Feisty, aggressive Josie has been kicked out of her home, while less assertive Teddy is keen to appear up for anything. Music is everything to them – especially the band Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts.
It is Johnny Valentine (Dylan Wood), Jenny O'Malley (Freya Parks), Sammy 'The Sticks' Smith (Andrew Gallo) and Buster Watson (musical director Harrison White) who bring Dougal Irvine's music to brilliant, energetic, pulsating life with Wood belting out numbers such as Shake, Rattle 'n Rail and the desperate, thrilling Outlaw on the Run, in contrast to a gentle Blue Without You, when Teddy and Josie finally find each other.
This is an action-filled evening, which includes tragedy and a dance so fast it will take your breath away merely to watch. Teddy meets Josie, who is on a girls' night out, and suggests going to listen to Johnny Valentine. The problem is they don't have enough cash to get in, so they find a pawn shop where they threaten the owner with an ex-army gun Teddy has taken from home. When the owner sneers at the couple, things escalate, there is a shot and eventually the couple find themselves being interviewed by the police.
While the music and dramatic story dominate the evening, there are also Dylan Thomas-like descriptions not to be missed in Josie's and Teddy's dialogue – the ruined church is a 'battered ribcage' of a building hanging on the back streets of London, just one example of Bernays' ability to use words to conjure up pictures.
A new-look musical directed by Eleanor Rhode with outstanding performances from every actor, producing a vibrant, exciting evening.
Review from the British Theatre Guide.
Tristan Bernays’ sparkling witty script Teddy written in verse and rhyme explodes onto Newbury’s Watermill stage recreating the spirit of the 1950s in London following the aftermath of the Blitz and the severe austerity that resulted.
The Elephant and Castle is a bombed out landscape that is the ‘manor’ of our protagonists. Huge poster adverts for Camp Coffee, Birds Custard and Brillo provide the backdrop in Max Dorey’s multi-level set with an ominous council sign that warns us to ‘keep out’.
But this is a period when rock 'n' roll is emerging as the solace for the teenagers trying to escape their humdrum existence and hit the town on a Saturday night.
Especially since American heartthrob Johnny Valentine and his band the Broken Hearts are playing at a secret venue, and boy are they great. Dylan Wood is the quintessential sexy Valentine in his leather jacket and sings with panache and passion.
In the stellar band Andrew Gallow as Sammy ‘the sticks’ Smith is a powerful drummer and Freya Parks as Jenny O’Malley plays the bass with attitude. Musical director Harrison White on lead guitar ensures that Douglas Irvine’s original numbers literally “rock and roll”.
George Parker is the smouldering Teddy of the title all dressed up in his Edwardian clothes with his hair in a “quiff to send you a quiver” determined to have a night to remember.
He meets the feisty Josie, splendidly portrayed by Molly Chesworth, in a derelict church and together they go on a roller coaster adventure that they will never forget.
There is a magical, vibrant chemistry between the two. It’s tentative to begin with but grows into a love affair and they own the stage in superb performances.
They dream of escaping to California and achieving the American Dream of driving a Cadillac and touring the coast.
But their night out doesn’t quite work out as they need to find money to get into the gig. They decide to rob a pawnbroker, and then there is the situation with the hulk bully trying to chat up Josie and Teddy defending her. All superbly created by Chesworth and Parker.
With a dramatic conclusion, Eleanor Rhode's taut direction and Tom Jackson Greaves's energetic choreography brings a fun, spirited performance that is brimful of energy in an effervescent production that will rock your socks off.
Teddy goes on tour and will be in the Vaults in London from the 29 March.
Review from The Times (paywall).
We’ve heard this one before, but the darkly joyful way Teddy evokes the 1950s is still quite a blast
This rock’n’roll reverie’s first outing was such a success at the Southwark Playhouse in London in 2015 that it has set off on a nationwide tour. Seeing it for the first time here, I was carried away by the strut of Eleanor Rhode’s production and frustrated by how long it takes for the story to get going in Tristan Bernays’s poetical script. Rocked, but not rolled over.
The story is familiar, even if the way it’s told is not. It’s 1955, so ration books are out and rock’n’roll is starting to shake up the postwar doldrums. On a Saturday night in London a teenage Teddy boy called — yes — Teddy is going out on the town. At the same time a Teddy girl called Josie is doing the same thing.
They will meet and admire each other’s threads: a velvet jacket and white shirt for her, a frock coat and waistcoat for him; nice work by the costume designer Holly Rose Henshaw. They will banter and flirt and admit they’re both skint. How to get into the secret gig by the visiting American rocker Johnny Valentine? They will egg each other on into violence in a way that brings to mind a budget British Badlands, a strictly-for-beer-money Bonnie and Clyde.
The way Bernays makes his story unique is in getting our young lovers to relay it to us in verse. It’s all about the music, in the ace onstage band playing prime pastiche songs, composed by Dougal Irvine, and in the way this pair talk. Bernays has a good eye for their desperate desire to be somewhere else, alongside their understanding of how locked into their lives they are. “What’s wrong about dreaming?” says George Parker’s Teddy, all nervy verve. “Waking up,” says Molly Chesworth’s Josie, all screw-you elegance. Rhythm is the thing here.
So, although your heart doesn’t thump at what these young lovers get up to, your foot taps, you surrender happily to the way Dylan Wood, as the charismatic Johnny, sells the songs. He fronts the band led by the musical arranger Harrison White on a split-level stage that the designer Max Dorey has backed with period posters for Bisto and Bird’s custard. We’ve heard this one before, but the darkly joyful way Teddy evokes its era is still quite a blast.
There are reviews from WhatsOnStage ("a raucous, exhilarating night out with bite" - ★★★★), thespyinthestalls.com ("a toe-tapping re-invention of the spirit of the era, interwoven with zippy and witty dialogue" - ★★★★★), Musical Theatre Review ("the brilliance here though is Bernays’ inspired writing technique which allows his characters to switch into multiple roles using beautiful poetic and almost Shakespearean language to full descriptive effect" - ★★★★).