Review of Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Sunny Afternoon MusicalSunny Afternoon is exactly what it says on the tin. It is a sunny and enjoyable experience – a musical theatre version of the true story of The Kinks, a very successful band from the 1960s. Their unique claim to fame was that at a time of great success for bands from Liverpool and Manchester, they were from London, born and bred, and proud to come from Muswell Hill!

Ray Davies, singer/songwriter of The Kinks, wrote the original story of the group’s climb to success. The well-respected Joe Penhall (Birthday, Royal Court, Blue/Orange, National Theatre) wrote the book and successfully managed the difficult task of squeezing into two and a half hours the group’s signing up with their management, their first hit, their life of debauchery, their fights, the American tour, their battles with the unions, their writs and their successes. Perhaps less material and more time to enjoy his clever one-liners would have made this an even more enjoyable experience. However, Penhall managed to keep the production light and appropriate to the spirit of The Kinks and their music.

The venue, the Harold Pinter Theatre, was well chosen. It is a small and intimate theatre, with a thrust stage used to good effect, with singers and dancers moving around the auditorium throughout we all felt involved and part of the fun and mayhem. Seating some of the audience in the stalls at small, round tables (with The Kinks’ record label in the centre) really added to the feeling that we were in a club, taking part in the proceedings, not just observing them. The whole atmosphere of the 1960s was recreated through the design (Miriam Buether), choreography (Adam Cooper), lighting (Rick Fisher) and sound (Matt McKenzie for Autograph). From the amps piled high around the stage, the extensive use of dry ice, the flashing coloured lights, the hair, makeup and miniskirts, and the dances, we were transported happily and authentically back in time. We were tempted and teased by the repeated iconic riff of ‘You Really Got Me’ as we watched the number being created, and were finally treated to the full rendition in a Top of the Pops studio. Heaven!

Obviously it is the music that makes this production. The audience is here because they know, or want to know, and love the music that represents the Swinging Sixties. Whether the audience was alive at that time or not, really doesn’t matter, these are classics that have stood the test of time: ‘All Day and All of the Night’, ‘Tired of Waiting’, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, ‘Dead End Street’, and ‘Waterloo Sunset’. These numbers provided the most memorable moments in the production as the volume was turned up and the music vibrated in your chest. We watched Dave Davies take an axe to an amp to produce the raw quality that makes the songs sound so real. The Kinks’ first breakthrough hit, ‘You Really Got Me’ had some heavy metal in it and Dave’s guitar riffs in that number, and others that followed, were incredible (played live by Pete Friesen off stage) and ground-breaking at that time. The Musical Director (Elliott Ware), Friesen and the cast must be congratulated on creating such an authentic sound. Not all were loud: the a cappella ‘Thank You for the Music’, the duet between Ray and Rasa (Lillie Flynn) ‘I go to sleep’, and between Ray and Dave ‘A Long Way from Home’ were beautiful, touching moments.

The four members of the cast, playing The Kinks, sang and played live. Mick and Pete (well played by Adam Sopp and Ned Derrington) were the quieter members of the band but George Maguire, playing Dave Davies, Ray’s younger brother, was a real star of this production. Dave’s humour, musical talent and destructive nature were all evident in a very vulnerable Maguire. Dave’s desire to be recognised as a writer as well as a musician, and his violent self-abuse showed the darker side of the Swinging Sixties but Maguire never lost the twinkle in his eye. John Dagleish had the difficult job of representing the enigmatic, spiky, sexy Ray Davies but did not fully capture Ray’s eccentric, humorous and wild side. Dagleish was a sensible Ray Davies, not the complex man we know him to be. However Dagleish really came into his own when he was singing and performing in the group.

To have Edward Hall as Director, whose list of credits appears endless, ensures a smooth and even direction and a clear eye for the production’s intention. We are transported back to the Swinging Sixties to celebrate what it is to be English. A key moment is the summer of 1966 when we relived England winning the World Cup and The Kinks reaching No 1 with ‘Sunny Afternoon’. Red, white and blue paper confetti rained down upon us in huge quantities and English football supporters danced around us joyfully, waving flags and scarves. The Kinks were playing their iconic English hit record and the audience was caught up in the euphoria of being English!

At the end of the show, after the cast bows, we were treated to a concert at Madison Square Gardens. The volume was pumped up and we were encouraged to join in. At last we were allowed to stand up, sing along, clap and dance. We were so ready! We had been singing under our breath for so long! All the old songs we know and love were performed and the audience had a ball. It was a clever way to ensure a standing ovation but it was well deserved.

4 Stars

Review by Valerie Cochrane

Sunny Afternoon
THE KINKS exploded onto the 60s music scene with a raw, energetic new sound that rocked a nation. But how did that happen, where exactly did they come from and what happened next?

With Music and Lyrics by Ray Davies, a new Book by Joe Penhall and Direction by Edward Hall, SUNNY AFTERNOON depicts the rise to stardom of THE KINKS. Set against the back-drop of a Britain caught mid-swing between the conservative 50s and riotous 60s, this production explores the euphoric highs and agonising lows of one of Britain’s most iconic bands and the irresistible music that influenced generations

John Dagleish as Ray Davies
George Maguire as Dave Davies
Adam Sopp as Mick Avory
Ned Derrington as Pete Quaife
Carly Anderson as Gwen/Company
Elizabeth Hill as Mrs Davies/Marsha/Company
Philip Bird as Mr Davies/Allen Klein/Company
Ben Caplan as Eddie Kassner/Company
Ashley Campbell as Gregory Piven
Lillie Flynn as Rasa/Company
Emily Goodenough as Peggy/Company/Dance Captain
Vince Leigh as Larry Page/Company
Amy Ross as Joyce/Company
Dominic Tighe as Robert Wace/Company
Tam Williams as Grenville Collins/Company
Luke Baker Understudy (Ray)
Robbie Durham Understudy
Stephen Pallister Understudy
Kirsty Mather Understudy
Verity Quade Understudy
Nick Sayce Understudy

Creative Team:
Ray Davies: Music & Lyrics
Joe Penhall: Writer
Ray Davies: Original Story
Edward Hall: Director
Miriam Buether: Designer
Adam Cooper: Choreographer
Rick Fisher: Lighting
Matt McKenzie: Sound
Elliott Ware: Musical Supervisor & Musical Director

Harold Pinter Theatre
6 Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN
Show Opened: 4th October 2014
Currently Booking Until: 23rd May 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 7.30pm

Tuesday 28th October 2014