MusicalReviewSouth West

Sunny Afternoon – Theatre Royal Plymouth

Music/Lyrics: Ray Davies

Book: Joe Penhall

Director: Edward Hall

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

While Keith Moon drove his Bentley into a swimming pool, England lifted the World Cup and the excesses of the flower power era were embodied by Beatlemania and hallucinogens, now-Sir Ray Davies was a quiet voice of satire, churning out exquisitely ironic commentary on all things British.

With Joe Penhall basing his book on an original story by Ray Davies, The Kinks’ biopic Sunny Afternoon was always going to be one man’s view of the rollercoaster ride of the mid-60s as the Cockney quartet clawed its perilous way to fame and fortune defying stereotyping and refusing to be cosmetically altered to fit a mould.

Gap-toothed Ryan O’Donnell is a believably melancholy Ray but thoughtful rather than moody, misunderstood rather than difficult and the volatile relationship with his flamboyant brother somewhat played down. But, despite what may well be a sanitised view, there is no denying the richness of the playlist: more than 50 singles and 23 albums flowed from his genius, making quiet (and not so quiet) wry observations on class, fashion and life in glorious technicolour.

Establishing the group’s foundations in proudly working class Muswell Hill – geographically far from its contemporary Beatles and socially far from the Rolling Stones – its rise and fall is dictated by its very roots. Desperately young and unworldy, the music industry vultures preyed upon their naivety with Money Go Round testament to being fleeced by ‘friends’ (Richard Hurst on point as Larry Page and drums aficionado Michael Warburton as a suited, sharp-talking Eddie Kassner) and being left with ‘half of goodness knows what’ when everyone has had their slice.

Mark Newnham  brings his guitar-playing prowess to bear as hedonistic Dave the Rave but it is his portrayal of the desperately young, madcap cross-dresser spiralling out of control in a drug and booze-filled round of women and excess that endures – particularly the image of the axe-wielding, nylon nightie-clad teen swinging from the chandelier.  

Garmon Rhys is beautifully understated as the homesick Pete Quaife unable to cope with life on the road and in recording studios, missing his scooter and wanting a steady life but always drawn back by that walking bass while Andrew Gallo is a tad too benign as drummer Mick Avory pushed to the very limits of his patience at the headline-hitting Cardiff concert, arrested for felling Dave with a high-hat pedal. Marc le Guerrannic brings great depth to the score with his superb guitar expertise hidden in the far corner of Miriam Buether’s bland set.

Director Edward Hall keeps a lively pace – but then there is a lot to get through, and that is only the first few years of the enduring band’s lifetime. A 15-minute cut would not go amiss as the boys bicker and implode but it is fittingly ironic that it was the unions which brought down this socialist group ensuring power was cut during performances and a ban imposed stymying its hopes of conquering America. Or at least at the outset.

With Dedicated Follower of Fashion’s dig at Carnaby St couture nicely illustrated by Dave’s rampage with silks and scarves; the militant Dead End Street an ensemble piece by the down-at-heel Davies family and Sitting In My Hotel/I Go To Sleep a sorrowful long-distance phone call duet, there is a concerted but obvious effort to slip in the backlist without becoming a tribute band concert or jukebox musical. Employing every opportunity to obviously avoid the obvious, there’s a hint of the Busby Berkeley’s, stylistic 60s frug and shimmy, and a spine-tingling a capella Days while snippets of all-time greats are used as commentary or fillers.

But it is when the band let rip that it is at its most engaging – not that the stacked and raked sound system would allow any escape as the very seating vibrates and the air is thick with Dave’s iconic guitar riffs, slashed amp or not, with the Madison Square Garden encore a stand up and dance must.

Runs until 13 May 2017  | Image: Kevin Cummins


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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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