This musical based on the music of The Kinks tells the story of the socialist brothers from Muswell Hill, Ray and Dave Davies, and their working class band mates Mick Avory and Pete Quaife. It’s a tale of dreams and aspirations, complex contracts, volatile relationships and, ultimately, success in the face of adversity. For those unfamiliar with the band formed by the brothers in 1963 as The Ravens, they didn’t become The Kinks until the following year emerging from the British Beat Movement, they went on to become one of the most influential rock groups of their generation. Indeed the influence of their classic hits, songs like You Really Got Me and Lola, live on today.
The Kinks went on to achieve success both in the UK and internationally but it was no easy road. With conflicts and even physical fights between band members, pressure from music executives, the relentless grind of touring and family tensions, the group, who were only in their late teens and early twenties at that time, are seen to lurch from one crisis to another.
The show is a stream of Kinks’ hits including “You Really Got Me”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “All Day and All of the Night”, “Waterloo Sunset” and “Sunny Afternoon” some performed as part of the narrative and others as recreations of concerts. The production also features songs written by Davies but best known for being performed by other bands and singers including “I Go to Sleep” and “Stop Your Sobbing”, both closely connected with The Pretenders.
But it’s not all about the music and Davies, together with Joe Penhall, have ensured that at the heart of Sunny Afternoon lies a story in which a group of young people have a dream and then realise that achieving it is much more difficult and personally painful than they had ever believed.
Across the board the cast are impressive both as actors and musicians, constantly changing musical instruments, singing and performing tightly compacted choreography created by Adam Cooper.
Ryan O’Donnell plays the troubled Ray, revealing both his exuberance on stage but also his vulnerability at home as he sinks into depression and disillusion at discovering top ten singles don’t necessarily bring happiness. Mark Newnham adds a comic touch as brother Dave, a youngster who wants to party, and cannot understand his brother’s reluctance to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Lisa Wright wins sympathy and is touching as Ray’s first wife Rasa. The fragility of their relationship is highlighted by a late night telephone call in which they speak , their home life ripped apart by Ray’s constant touring.
Directed by Edward Hall and designed by Miriam Buether, the staging brings the action into the audience with a catwalk stage into the stalls and a backdrop of musical speakers. While Kinks fans will enjoy the music, the gritty realism of the band’s early struggles will hit home with any audience, indeed the domestic and professional dramas at the centre of these conflicts aren’t exclusive to The Kinks.
As the spectacular acapella version of Thank You For The Days and the strains of Waterloo Sunset drift from the stage the party is in full swing. As Ray, O’Donnell leads from the front. Driven, charming, naive, despondent, angry, he captures the turmoil at the heart of his character with subtle shifts.
As cross dressing, wildman Dave Davies, Mark Newnham offers a pleasing performance, high on farce. Garmon Rhys and Andrew Gallo bring some nice moments to the roles of band members Pete Quaife and Mick Avory, the later’s energetic drum solo gets a well deserved roar of approval. A fine ensemble cast gel well to bring a host of other characters to life. Robert Took enjoys a scene stealing turn as hard talking music publisher Allen Klein
I found the show quite moving during some of the arguments between brothers scenes. If you enjoy theatre and like the music, you’ll have a great time at this show!