Writer: Ray Davies/Joe Penhall
Composer: Ray Davies
Director: Edward Hall
Reviewer: Tim Wright
“It doesn’t sound like Merseybeat, it doesn’t sound like anyone.” is the knowing reaction from Ray’s sister in the opening of Sunny Afternoon after hearing the band for the first time.
It’s a pretty safe bet that a musical containing the calibre of songs like Lola and You Really Got Me from The Kinks back catalogue should be a commercial success. After all, composers spend years trying to get one hit from a musical so cramming it with songs already in the public consciousness is a sure fire way to put bums on seats.
Sunny Afternoon is the story of brothers Ray and Dave and their rise from Muswell Hill “oiks” to popstars. Surrounding them are a variety of hangers-on, all wanting their cut of the boys success. The story follows a fairly well-trodden path to fame- the pressure, the squabbles and wanting to go home.
Ryan O’Donnell as Ray is often found in a reflective mood and Sunny Afternoon is at it’s best when we’re seeing how the ideas for some of The Kinks’ best songs came about. Director Edward Hall does a fine job to give Ray the space to watch the action, almost detached, as the lyrics about his life spill out as naturally as water from a tap. Mark Newnham nails the chaotic exterior of Dave ‘the rave’ Davies while allowing subtlety underneath.
There are nice portrayals of the other people in Ray and Dave’s life but they never stretch to anything like the depth of the brothers. Robert Took as their father is a working class man and is touching in his admiration for the boys. Lisa Wright as Rasa (Ray’s wife) combines a lovely northern steel with innocence.
As the story is told, we’re given snippets of concerts and the musicianship is never less than superb. Designer Miriam Buether has even given us a portion of the stage jutting out into the audience for the boys to use. The sound is authentic and for fans of The Kinks these moments will likely be the highlight.
The show just about keeps its pace but running at 2hrs50min it does feel overlong. For a story that holds no great mysteries, it does feel as if a good trim would be welcome. The second half is particularly guilty of this as one brilliant but pointless drum solo exemplifies.
For fans of The Kinks, the show will evoke great memories of the decades with its costumes and dance moves so synonymous with the swinging sixties. The show ends with the obligatory concert section that shows off just how good these songs are. The irony that is that Ray says he’ll never be a social mover in the sixties. Fast forward to 2017, well, all hail Sir Raymond Davies.
Runs until 11 March 2017 and then continues to tour| Image: KevinCummins