Teddy may turn the clock back some 60 or so years to a postwar Elephant and Castle, but the show being played out at Southwark Playhouse – right in the middle of that fast-regenerating London district – is a game changer that pushes the integrated musical play forwards.
We’ve recently seen how Once, imported from Broadway, brought the original music of a fictitious Dublin street busker to the stage, but those songs emerged specifically out of the action and emotions of the story. Teddy seeks to do something different: its original songs, performed live by a stunning and characterful onstage band, are background atmospheric accompaniment to the story it separately tells of a night on the town by two young people Teddy (Joseph Prowen) and Josie (Jennifer Kirby).
Tristan Bernays’ script frequently flirts with heightened poetic imagery in a narrative style that sometimes reminded me of Berkoff. But Eleanor Rhode’s production, which provides a meticulous recreation of the spirit of a place and a time, is thrillingly grounded by the giddy, intoxicating delivery of its songs.
That gives a familiar story immediacy and impact. It’s also great to see Southwark Playhouse, which has become a major home for bringing Broadway shows like Titanic, In the Heights and Carrie to London now providing space for a creatively inspired and inspiring English contribution.