Review: Teddy (Watermill Theatre)

Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine’s ’50s musical arrives in Newbury ahead of a UK tour

We’re back in the 1950s, when Camp was a brand of coffee and Spangles were boiled sweets. You can clock both of these on the tatty posters crowning Max Dorey’s multi-levelled set for Teddy which doubles as a London bomb site, night-time streets, teenager's bedroom, rock dive and pawn shop.

Meet Josie and aptly-named Teddy, aspiring Teds, teenagers as sharp as their suits. The bomb sites of south London are their manor, where their worship of rock idol Teddy Valentine brings them together for a night on the razzle that ends in triumph and disaster.

Tristan Bernays’ book, in freewheeling verse that drives the action and echoes the energy of his heroes and their music, has the pair play people they encounter that night, from the brutish would-be rival for Josie’s favours to the ageing pawn broker this penniless Bonnie and Clyde rob to fund their night out. Molly Chesworth and George Parker bring all this to life with precise panache, setting the scene as they primp in their shabby bedrooms and relish rhymes reminiscent of Berkoff but with a life of their own. 'This would-be dancer won’t take no for an answer' says Josie of the hulk thrusting himself on her. Josie and Teddy demonstrate that they are the real thing, realising Tom Jackson Greaves’ authentic choreography with exhilarating verve.

All this is crowned with the pumping rock and roll of Johnny Valentine and his fab band playing Dougal Irvine‘s raunchy new numbers, so authentic that you think you’ve heard them before. From the get-go this feels like a gig. The action is topped and tailed with sets from the band and their numbers stud the action and comment on it too with songs including "Ready Teddy", "Switchblade Sue" and "Outlaw on the Run". These actor/musicians deftly sketch their raunchy characters with the shtick between numbers. Move over Elvis, Dylan Wood’s Johnny Valentine is every inch the heartthrob and Freya Parks’ wonderfully watchable Jenny oozes attitude as she plays a mean bass. Andrew Gallo is an amiable towering presence as Sammy 'The Sticks', the drummer we all know and love. MD Harrison White’s Buster Watson on guitar completes the line-up.

The action, tightly directed by Eleanor Rhode, always has potential for danger. It’s taking a turn for the dark side that gives this show its guts, keeping faith with the narrative of these youngsters trying to find their way in the anomie and deprivation of post-war London, where bomb sites still stud the city and food rationing has barely ended. A raucous, exhilarating night out with bite.

Teddy runs at the Watermill Theatre until 10 February.