Book: Joe Penhall
Music and Lyrics: Ray Davies
Director: Edward Hall
The Kinks – 60s pop sensation with a quintessentially British sound, formed from two brothers and some mates from Muswell Hill. Ray Davies’ quirky and intelligent lyrics were quite different to anything else that was around at that time, while the guitar playing of his brother, Dave, often held a raw power. But how did the band come about and what happened behind the scenes? What of the internal tensions that famously erupted on stage in Cardiff?
Sunny Afternoon seeks to chart the early history of the band culminating in the recording of Ray Davies’ masterpiece, Waterloo Sunset and illustrated by songs from The Kinks’ back catalogue. As a juke box musical, then, it’s more Jersey Boys than Mamma Mia! and gains in verisimilitude as a result.
The plot, however, is nothing very new. A young idealist bunch form a group and sign an exploitative contract. They make records and have some success. They tour and work hard – but being in each other’s pockets all the time leads to tensions that spill over into their professional and personal lives. At least Sunny Afternoon leaves us on a high – we don’t see the waves of fame The Kinks went through over their entire history to 1996, only the earlier, more exciting days in the 1960s.
Many will have come to see and hear songs from The Kinks’ back catalogue performed live by a young vibrant group of talented musicians and singers – and they are certainly not disappointed. From the crashing chords of You Really Got Me to the more gentle refrains of I Go To Sleep, the songs fit the varying moods perfectly and are executed well, even if sometimes the voices and lyrics are overwhelmed by the guitars and drums in the louder, rockier songs. But the interweaving of the songs is also a weakness – character development isn’t as strong as it might be as Joe Penhall’s book has to fit around the musical elements. So we see Dave’s character flaws (as “Dave the Rave”), the difficulties Ray feels being parted from his family, the isolation bass guitarist Pete feels as well as the tensions between Dave and drummer Mick, but we don’t feel them – although the rendition of Thank You for the Days is rather moving, and the build-up to Waterloo Sunset is particularly effective. But such quibbles hardly matter in what is essentially a celebration of great music from a great band and an entertaining night out.
Taking centre stage as Ray is Ryan O’Donnell. He is equally at home singing the raucous and the introspective songsand does succeed in showing elements of Davies’ complex character. His duet with his wife Rasa (Lisa Wright) is particularly affecting. Mark Newnham’s Dave is loud, over-the-top and great fun, filling the stage with his larger-than-life persona, complete with its many flaws. Garmon Rhys’ Pete Quaife, the sometimes overlooked bass player, does bring in some pathos as he discusses his feelings of isolation. All are also good musicians, especially Andrew Gallo’s drummer, Mick Avory, who plays an excellent drum solo in the second half. Other characters are more sketchily portrayed, including that of Rasa, although Wright does bring in the right balance of vulnerability and strength, with the balance varying as their relationship progresses.
An interesting set evokes recording studios while acting as a backdrop to more mundane locations, always reminding us of The Kinks raison d’être. And of course, the clothes – costumes do remind us that in the 1960s, everyone was a Dedicated Follower of Fashion, regardless of how ridiculous some of those fashions might be.Adam Cooper’s choreography is simple and effective, supporting the period feeling
So a fun night out with plenty of nostalgia and sublime musical performances that more than outweigh any minor flaws. Well worth giving a shot.
Runs until 10 September 2016 | Image: Kevin Cummins