Book: Joe Penhall
Original Story: Ray Davies
Music and Lyrics: Ray Davies
Director: Edward Hall
Reviewer: Dan English
The music of The Kinks warms the winter evenings as Sunny Afternoon reaches Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as part of its UK tour.
Stepping off the West End, this musical transports audiences backs to the 1960s, following the emergence of The Kinks, tracking their journey from humble beginnings to global superstars. The musical succeeds in encapsulating the music that makes The Kinks the iconic band they are. It is a production that charts the rise of The Kinks alongside the political and social upheaval of the 1960s, marking the moments that dominated the era while noting the band’s own journey too.
Kinks frontman Ray Davies has a hand in creating this production, with his stage counterpart Ryan O’Donnell giving an impressive performance as the singer. There is an insecurity to O’Donnell’s performance that immediately creates a charm to his portrayal as Davies. What’s more, O’Donnell does well to demonstrate the musical talent Davies possesses. This musicality is displayed across the production, although a particular highlight involves O’Donnell’s Davies using a typewriter to set a beat.
Mark Newnham is Ray’s brother, and fellow Kink, Dave. A much more flamboyant performer than his reserved brother, Newnham’s Dave represents everything that is dangerous about life for the famous in the 60s. Dave’s love of fast drugs, fast drink and even fast women cause great fractures in the band, with both O’Donnell and Newnham doing well to present the fraught tensions among the pair. Despite his flaws, Dave is an endearing character, and in a world of Ray’s seriousness, Dave’s outrageousness, and reckless use of a drum stand, provides some much-needed relief throughout.
Andrew Gallo is Mick, the loud, outspoken drummer of the band. It is a shame Gallo does not have more of a role in this production, as he often steals moments with his well placed comic timing, particularly in the first half. Mick’s difficult relationship with Dave is presented well by Gallo, with his frustration growing considerably as the production progresses. In contrast to Mick is Pete (Garmon Rhys). Pete, another guitarist in the band, is low on confidence and it is refreshing to see a character deal with the pressures of fame in a more sensitive way, instead of the stereotypical sex, drugs and rock and roll approach. Both Gallo and Rhys feel underused in the production, but both do shine in their individual moments across this near-three-hour performance.
Sunny Afternoon explores how The Kinks pushed musical boundaries and fought to preserve their sound against commercial pressure, and it is this musicality that spearheads this production. There is a good blend between an original soundtrack and Kinks songs to help drive the plot forward. At times, it does feel a little confused between a jukebox musical and the more traditional sense of a musical, however. That said, the production does boast a talented ensemble cast that reinvigorates the band’s music as well as entertains with a set of choreography that represents perfectly the Swinging Sixties, with a scene at the Top of the Pops studio an example.
Miriam Buether’s simple set dominated by a backdrop full of a variety of amplifiers and speakers to represent the band’s loud sound. What makes this production successful, however, is the incorporation of a thrust stage, that serves well as a location for the characters to express their innermost feelings away from the main action. It is an intricate touch but one that is very effective, especially during Ray’s most soul searching of moments.
This is a production successful in bringing the music of The Kinks to audiences new and old. There is a freshness to this production that revitalises music almost half a century old, yet retains some of its edge that made it so unique originally. An enjoyable piece of musical theatre.
Runs until 19 November 2016 | Image: Kevin Cummins