Molly Chesworth is currently at the Vaults Theatre performing the role of Josie in Teddy. Directed by Eleanor Rhode, written by Tristan Bernays with music by Dougal Irvine, the musical play teleports audiences back into 1950s London where the Teddy culture began. With original songs and performances, Teddy brings to life the post-war energy and celebrates the era with a post-show live-gig. I got to speak to Molly about her journey on Teddy‘s UK tour: how she manages to keep up with the fast-pace demands of her role and how special it is to perform in front of originals Teds. (Read my four-star review of the show here.)
You’ve performed Teddy in many UK theatres. What is it like bringing Teddy to the Vaults?
It is probably the most perfect venue that we’ve had so far. Our set designer Max Dorey really tinkered with the set on the first week we were there. He changed things to make it feel like you were walking into a bombed out space. So in the first room it’s interactive. You’re basically thrown into the setting, straight away. But as a space, it is also exciting because it used to be train tracks underneath Waterloo station, which means you can always hear trains going over the top of the theatre. We actually have sound effects of trains on the show, so you don’t know what’s what – if it is a real train or a sound effect. It adds to the atmosphere. It’s quite intimate too, which is nice. The theatre isn’t massive, which is a good thing because Teddy is quite a tense piece.
We are here until June 2. It’s a great time to be anywhere in London now. We are all happy that we have settled in and we have a home. It’s quite difficult when you’re on tour, changing venues a lot; you can’t really get used to a place. But now we are all here, we are raring to go.
With the sound of the trains passing do you mind it or are you just used to it?
I really like it. If it enters my actor’s conscience, then I think, yes, we really are here. It feels atmospheric to me. It’s really cool when it happens… to hear that kind of rumble in a tunnel.
Did you know about Teddy boys and Teddy girls before you were cast in the show?
I knew about the boyish look on a girl. My dad wasn’t from the Teddy boy era but he would talk about Mods, Rockers and Teddy boys. He’s actually a musician. I grew up listening to a lot of music and he would talk about many different eras, so I was aware of the Teddy culture. But I wasn’t aware of what it was born out of or the kind of mindset those Teds were in at the time. When I got the role, I started doing research into Teddy boys and Teddy girls, and found it fascinating. I found out that it is quite similar to many people’s situation nowadays; a lot of people don’t feel they have a voice and are rebelling. There’s a kind of similarity between those times and these times at the moment.
What kind of things did you research to understand Josie’s character?
As an actor, when you’re in a play it’s completely up to you to do as much or as little research as you want, unless your director requests you to bring something in. I focused on the time and what it was like to be a young person in that era. That included what it would have been like for their parents too, during the war. Obviously, they were carrying more than Josie and Teddy because they were there when the war happened. For Josie’s father, I had to understand what he was going through and why he was the way he was. Our director Eleanor Rhode is very knowledgeable. We have chats about what it would have been like to live in that time.
The cinema scene, in the first half, is a real account of a true story that happened in Elephant and Castle in 1956. All the Teds were there. This film played and it had ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and all of the Teds caused a ruckus and went crazy; they were pulling the seats apart, getting into fights and then, all the sudden, the police came.
How hard or how easy was it to learn all of those 1950s dance moves?
It was difficult, but it was more difficult to keep up with the stamina and to do it over and over again. There’s the footwork and the quickness of it. I come from a dancer’s background, so I love dance. George Parker and I would go through it and our choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves, who he is such a dream, will say ‘that’s great, but can you make it sharp?’ So every movement needs to be really punchy and that’s what makes it harder. You have to be way more precise and be thinking that every single move has to be on the money, and when it is so quick it can be really hard. Sometimes if I get really knackered on stage and it’s towards the end, I just think, oh my god, how am I ever going to finish this one? There are many big jumps and all sorts.
What kind of challenges do you come across in Teddy?
I would say a big challenge is the detailed storytelling. George and I are the storytellers – that’s only two people. It is essentially one story told from one perspective as we are in the same setting. I would say it is a challenge to be disciplined with yourself. You have to make sure that you don’t run away with the story and let everything land with the audience. It would be really easy to do; saying all the text quickly and not connecting with anyone. So I think being disciplined with myself as an actor when I’m doing it is the biggest challenge, and not allowing the ball to drop because there are only two people. You have to keep those stakes high and that intensity there, otherwise it will just fall on its face. It relies so heavily on the storytelling and physicality, as well.
How do you manage to make all the dancing, monologues, multitasking… everything work? What’s your secret?
When I went to drama school, I enjoyed the character work; taking on other roles that were completely different from me physically and putting them into my body. We did something called Animal Studies where you were given an animal. I was given a baboon and yeah, (chuckles) I had to be that animal for a whole term – that’s about three hours a week. In the class, you had to go around as the animal and learn how the animal sleeps, eats, fights and gives affection. You had to learn every single thing about them and then, eventually, turn them into a character. It is a thorough tool. So if you are trying to impersonate a big man, you just have to go for it. The character of Tully is 100% gorilla vibe. Every time I think of him I just see a huge gorilla. So the Animal Studies really helped. Sometimes the hardest thing is not the physicality; it’s actually the breath. Tully has such a low voice and I need to use a lot of breath just to get his resonance out. And then to turn into Josie without a break…
How do you stay fit and keep up with the stamina of the show?
I really like yoga. It’s really good for the body and the breath because you’re using both things at the same time. The show is so physical that you have to stretch and have to be limber. Otherwise, sometimes I’d wake up and my body would ache so much just because I hadn’t stretched enough. So doing a bit of yoga helps. We always do a bit of a warm-up before the show, that includes the band, the Broken Hearts, [Dyland Wood, Harrison White, Andrew Gallo, Freya Parks] George and I. The Band and the music are just incredible. The Band are really skilled and fun. We would run around, do some stretches and vocal exercises. I also find rib-stretches good. But literally, it means opening up your ribs in your chest. It sounds painful, but it really isn’t. If you put your hands on your ribs and breath into your ribs it really opens them. It’s a really good technique if you’re speaking long lines, and there are many long lines in Teddy.
Do you feel it is more personal knowing that you’re performing in front of people who were Teds and were familiar with the Teddy look?
We had some original Teds come to our show in Ipswich and they were properly kitted out. They looked amazing. We did a Q & A at the end and one of them said ‘I was a Ted. I lived in London during that era…’ He was so happy and thrilled by the piece. He found that it was really authentic and he believed in it. It feels good to give someone a good experience in the theatre, but it’s the fact that these people had actually lived through it which is quite special. It’s nice to get that back from someone who has been through it. It’s fun having people with that kind of get-up and outfit too. The venue in Ipswich didn’t even have a dance floor, but this couple just came down to the front of the auditorium and started dancing. If it’s going to get people up and get them dancing, you can’t really ask for more. Theatre should be an immersive experience. If you’re getting more people involved, then you’re going to feel more inspired, generally… in life. It brings people together.
What’s planned for Molly after Teddy has ended?
I have a holiday after. I would love to work straight away, but the reality of being an actor is even if you’ve had a stint at being good at something, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be in work straight away. So I’m going to keep being positive and try to invite more people to see Teddy. Who knows. Something amazing could happen. I’m so happy to be in this play because I love it. I’m just going to ride this out and see what is around the corner.
Teddy is is showing at the Vault Festival (London) until June 2, 2018. For more information on the show and to book tickets, please click here.