Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Shadows on the Stage: Teenage kicks

dir Eleanor Rhode • scr Tristan Bernays • music Dougal Irvine
Southwark Playhouse • 4-27.Jun.15

A strikingly original merging of drama, music and performance art, this world premiere musical is utterly gripping as it dips into Britain's 1950s Teddy culture. After the bombing and a decade of rationing and rebuilding, the UK's teens exploded in a burst of energy to the beat of American musicians like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, often causing mayhem in a nation trying to redefine itself.

Teens Teddy (Joseph Prowen) and Josie (Jennifer Kirby) have their faux Edwardian outfits sorted out, sneaking from their grim homes for a night looking for adventure on the streets of London. They first meet at a bombed-out church that's been converted into a nightclub, and the way they smile at each other gets their hearts fluttering. But Josie has a possessive brute of a boyfriend, and they need some cash to make this a night to remember, even if that means breaking the law.

Prowen and Kirby perform Teddy and Josie with uncanny intimacy, allowing the audience into their minds with their stream-of-consciousness monologues, which not only include their dialog but also describe the scenes and give voice to the other (unseen) characters. The roles require a massive amount of physicality, including an elaborate dance sequence, and both performers burst with energy and youthful spark. But it's their inner emotional lives that grab hold.

All of this is overseen by hip-swinging rocker Johnny Valentine (Will Payne) and his three bandmates (Harrison White, Alexander Bean and Alice Offley), who perform period pieces with serious brio on a set that's strewn with post-war rubble and livened up like an underground rave. So while the dialog sometimes feels talky (we'd rather see what happens than hear about it), the show moves at a thrilling clip, racing to a final sequence that's unnervingly bold and thoughtful. It's a striking depiction of the difference between the jaded, desperate British teens of the 1950s and the more spoiled, demanding ones we see in American pop culture. Imagine Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild Ones crossed with Grease.

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