Sunny Afternoon the Kinks musical is superbly celebratory, gutsy and honest, often joyous and frequently very witty. Do you need to be a fan of The Kinks to enjoy it? Actually no. Sunny Afternoon tells it how it was to be in such a 1960s group during a time of great and often riotous social change in the UK compared with the post war conservative 1950s. It is done in such a way that is enjoyable whether you’re a fan or not and, if you were far too young to be around in the 1960s, after watching this you’ll wish you were older! What it isn’t, thank goodness, is just another juke box musical. It is much more deep and refined than that. Director Edward Hall resists any temptation to shoe horn all of The Kinks songs into the show but what does exist on stage is deftly integrated into the story telling coupled with some very clever staging by the ensemble and slick choreography created by Adam Cooper.
The music and lyrics are by the recently knighted Ray Davies, as is the story, and any songs included grow naturally from the narrative. Expect to be very impressed with the actor/musicians versions of A Rock and Roll Fantasy, A Well Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Set Me Free, This Time Tomorrow, You Really Got Me, Waterloo Street, I Go To Sleep, Days and the rocking finale anthem Lola!
Sunny Afternoon uses the music of The Kinks to tell the band’s story from the position of singer/song writer Ray Davies (Ryan O’Donnell). It is an interesting story featuring band members fighting on stage, uneasy relationships between band members both artistically and personally, the group encountering rip off managers and them famously being banned from touring in the USA. Sunny Afternoon also explores how The Kinks pushed musical boundaries whilst fighting to preserve their unique sound against commercial pressure to be a pop music success. The show’s choreography is electric especially the Top of The Pops scene with its Go Go girls in chequered mini skirts.
Like the recent touring production of Million Dollar Quartet, seen at Nottingham Theatre Royal, every cast member is both as strong an actor and singer as they are a musician plus there is some clever doubling up on roles. The young actresses in the cast work particularly hard. The live music and stunning vocals are the show’s strength as well as having the benefit of a very strong script or book by Joe Penhall. His script illuminates the darkest elements of the show with gritty humour.
Sunny Afternoon has a strong sense of the period and cleverly captures the sadness often hidden behind the bouncier tunes and the genuinely poignant numbers. The Kinks were a band that defined the 1960s and their musical influence is still strongly felt today. Ray Davies and The Kinks wrote poetic songs about the working class experience and about the difficult lives of ordinary families and ordinary blokes in songs like Dead End Street. The title song Sunny Afternoon satirises what Davies thought of being a star but also being broken financially by the tax man and essentially lonely and depressed.
Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham star as warring siblings Ray and Dave Davies. O’Donnell not only looks like the young Ray Davies but his singing voice is spookily close.
Mark Newnham plays Dave Davies as a much more flamboyant performer than his brother and his character represents everything that is dangerous about life for the famous in the 60s. Saying this, Dave’s outrageous cross dressing bad boy nature also allows him to be seen as an endearing character in the same way that Keith Moon was outrageous but oddly likeable. One just wouldn’t want to be living with his temperament day in day out. Andrew Gallo plays Mick Avory, the brash, outspoken drummer of the band and Kinks bass guitarist Pete is sensitively portrayed by Garmon Rhys.
Lisa Wright is immensely watchable as Rasa the girl of Lithuanian descent and the fan who gets the lead man Ray Davies. Wright is especially touching in the Atlantic phone scene with Ray and in her declaration of an unexpected baby on the way early in their relationship.
Miriam Buether’s impressive set is dominated by a backdrop full of a variety of amplifiers and speakers which transforms into a mass of stars and stripes when the band hit the USA and back again. The incorporation of a thrust stage serves well as a location for the characters to express their hidden emotions away from the main action as well as to strut their stuff during the upbeat numbers.
All of the cast’s characters are well rounded very believable, three dimensional figures and at times one feels like one has gone back in time and eavesdropping on popular musical history. The finale has the whole audience up on their feet and clapping along like they are at Madison Square Gardens in the mid 1960s. Sunny Afternoon is a phenomenal show. Do go and see it. You will be blown away.
Sunny Afternoon runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal from Tuesday 24 Jan – Saturday 28th Jan 2017.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe