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Teddy (Southwark Playhouse)

Eleanor Rhode's punchy production explores the dark and damaged world of 1950s London

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Will Payne (Johnny Valentine) in Teddy at Southwark Playhouse
© Darren Bell

Teddy as in "boy" not in "bear" is a short, sharp rock 'n roll not-quite-musical by a promising duo of playwright Tristan Bernays and composer Dougal Irvine that means business. It's Saturday night in 1956 at the Elephant and Castle and Teddy is ready for a night on the town, and the tiles.

And that's it, really. Teddy gets going with Josie and they cut as many moves as grooves while a tremendous four-piece rock 'n roll band belts out a series of ersatz songs with a twist; titles like "Heartache Express," "Shake, Rattle 'n Rail," and "In the Back of My Cadillac" suggest we're talking Elvis, Chuck Berry and Gene Vincent rather than Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury.

A feint, gratuitous narrative involves a brush with trouble, a bit of a rumble, a dash down dark streets. But Eleanor Rhode's punchy production is not some kind of bid to rival West Side Story. It's merely a glorified gig with snappy choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves and cool costumes by Holly Rose Henshaw.

As Teddy and Josie, Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby dance up a physical storm, gliding and jiving, rocking and rolling, flying and falling. When they're just posing and strutting, they seem like an unusually anaemic pair of Steven Berkoff characters. When they're cooing and cuddling, you're reminded (well, I was) of a similar, much better, romantic duet in a cityscape with songs, David Greig's Midsummer.

This artistic fusion of styles is interesting but, despite all the rhythm and blues, there's not much heft or texture. Two things strike me: the sheer number of people and producers involved, the money spent, the technical expertise, all deserving of a much bigger show; and the blatant talent of the actors and musicians, as well as the writers. Some day soon, perhaps, their footprints will come.

Teddy runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 27 June 2015. For more information and to book tickets, click here.