REVIEW: Sunny Afternoon – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Book: Joe Penhall

Original Story: Ray Davies

Music and Lyrics: Ray Davies

Director: Edward Hall

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

From Muswell Hill to the top of the charts, via endless discord, constant ripping off from their managers, unexpected parenthood, depression and a war with the US trade unions, Sunny Afternoon is a spirited, celebratory, witty, joyous departure from the usual musical theatre biography.

The Kinks were a band that defined the 1960s, a band whose legacy is still firmly felt today, a band that grew out of an era where the media were peddling the idea of a classless society, a society where ordinary blokes could rule the world. But Ray Davies and The Kinks took a more realistic view, writing about working class families stuck on Dead End Street and upper-class aristos bemoaning “the tax man’s taken all my dough” in the seemingly benign Sunny Afternoon, the song that this glorious musical takes its name from.

The raw aggression and heavy guitar riffs of their early hits You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night don’t tell the whole story of the sensitive lyrical and melodic genius crippled by new found fame, nor the perpetual strife, not only between brothers Ray and Dave Davies but the whole band. Playwright Joe Penhall has managed to take Ray Davies’ story of love and war and create an absolute corker of a show around it.

Directed by Edward Hall with a quirky originality that elevates it far above and beyond any ‘jukebox’ musical, there are no gratuitous attempts to shoe-horn the hits into the story, (some are rendered merely as short bursts) instead, there’s a real sophistication in the way the songs have been utilised, growing naturally from the narrative. The characters too are fully realised and truly three dimensional. It has a strong sense of the period and cleverly captures the real melancholy behind the chirpy tunes.

Central to the success of the piece are the pivotal performances of Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham as warring siblings Ray and Dave Davies. Newnham’s turn as little brother “Crazy Dave” captures the rebellious spirit of the age – in what other musical would you see a man in a baby pink chiffon nightie swinging from a chandelier? There’s a rawness and reality as well as a sensitivity to the two performances that makes the whole dynamic utterly believable, it’s also accompanied by an impressive musical talent in both men.

The acting throughout is first rate and by no means is this a two man band, Garmon Rhys as bass player and reluctant star Pete Quaife, is nicely measured as is Andrew Gallo as drummer Mick Avory.

And what about those tunes? The production team, have to their credit, resisted giving them a musical theatre gloss and they are delivered here live concert-style onstage in order to do them full justice. When the ear-splitting, chest-pounding first chords ring out from All Day and All of the Night its nigh on impossible to resist the urge to jump onstage and join in the fun. Particularly moving too is the return of Quaife to the band where Ray pleads, “I’ve got this song – it’s got this strolling bassline…” and they segue into the utterly stunning Waterloo Sunset…lumps in the throat all round.

Save for the lack of tables front of stage to create a club vibe, very little has been lost in its translation from the West End stage to touring production. It remains as vibrant as it did two years on from its first appearance at Hampstead Theatre and it’s easy to see why it was utterly deserving of its sweep of the boards at the Olivier Awards.

An unmissable show. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket – just go.

Runs until 15 October 2016 | Image: Kevin Cummins

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