Yes, gentle reader, you did read that title correctly. I loved the new touring production of Sunny Afternoon so much that I had to go back to see it again on the matinee the next day. The only other time that we were so overwhelmed by a show that we had to see it the next day was for the brilliant Mr Whatnot – if you were lucky enough to catch it, give yourself a huge pat on the back in self-congratulation.
Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to see Sunny Afternoon in London two years ago, and, for my reflections on what the show’s about, its structure and so on, I can’t do better than to refer you to my original review. I could finish there, really, but seeing as you asked so nicely, I’ll continue. The show tells the story of The Kinks; how they formed, their early days, how they put together those iconic guitar riffs, how their success exploded under their posh management duo, Wace and Collins; how they got into trouble in America, how they interacted with one another, and how their relationship with their managers ended. All this to the accompaniment of Ray Davies’ beautiful, melancholic, introverted, enthusiastic, heart-warming lyrics and melodies.
They didn’t rip out the first few rows of seats at the Derngate to create cabaret tables like they did at the Comedy, I mean Harold Pinter theatre. They did, however, have that very useful apron that allows the cast to catwalk into the auditorium, and if you’re seated close to it you get an exciting sense of extra stage dimension. It really enhances the relationship between the performers and the audience, and is also a great view for appreciating the 1960s Pan’s People-type choreography. I’d say the ideal place to sit would be centre stalls, one row further back from where the apron ends. You’re welcome.
Having a different cast performing in different theatres inevitably sometimes changes the emphasis of the show. This time round, I was much more struck by the irony of the group’s prohibition from working in America; working class lads being caught out by the intricacies of union dues. When Mr Sinatra’s representative tells them to look after their teamsters, they (unsurprisingly) haven’t got a clue what he’s on about. There’s a nice nod to McCarthyism with the suggestion that both Ray Davies’ wife Rasa (Lithuanian) and their baby (a baby) must be communists. Ray’s retort that the UK gave her refuge when she and her family were in need sounds (sadly) like historical rhetoric in these post-Brexit days. When they’re in America, they’re very uncomfortable fish out of waters.
The other aspect of the show that was more pointedly highlighted in this production is the extreme youth (but not naïveté) of Dave Davies. He can’t sign the agreement with the managers because he is only 16, so his father is required to do to it for him. And when the band starts to do well, and the fans start throwing themselves at them – well, Dave instantly has girls on tap, and there’s no doubting that he enjoyed more than his fair share. Easy access to drugs and drink clearly isn’t beneficial to Dave’s health. But the show is very forgiving of him – he’s “just Dave” – and with all that self-indulgence, the show would have you believe he simply had a pretty darn good time. His big on-stage fight with drummer Mick really did happen; it’s presented in the show almost as a pantomime, with the copper running after him, wagging his truncheon almost Benny Hill-style, but in reality, he needed sixteen stitches to the head.
So why did I enjoy this revisiting this production two years on so much that I had to go again the next day? Primarily, I think, it was because of the music. That early scene, where Ray and Dave are perfecting the guitar intro to You Really Got Me, got my goosebumps jumping like Mexican beans; and it gets louder, and it gets rawer, and it gets unruly – and I really loved it. I think I already knew at that stage I had to come back. In the second act, Andrew Gallo, as Mick, gives us a truly exciting and delightfully reckless drum solo, that really stands out. At the other end of the scale, Lisa Wright performs I Go To Sleep with the most painfully poignant expression; you can almost feel the emotional gulps in each word – and it’s a stunning arrangement by Elliott Ware. Her performance as Rasa is outstanding throughout the whole show. That’s definitely one of Sunny Afternoon’s strengths – how it takes an original Kinks song and then covers it in a truly creative way. The acapella performance of that lovely old song, Days, for example, puts a strongly emotional slant on it, the five guys singing barbershop style, led with beautiful clarity by Joseph Richardson as Robert Wace.
Of course, any production is going to rely heavily on the actor playing Ray, and in Ryan O’Donnell, they’ve come up with an absolute cracker. Not only is he the spitting image of the young Ray, he sings like him, recreating his phrasing perfectly; he portrays the character’s quiet determination, his artistic imperative to create the best recording possible, and his emotional vulnerability. Ray isn’t all about sparkly charisma and showbiz pizazz, he’s the guy who observes the crack up in the ceiling, who quietly gazes on Waterloo sunset, who’s not like everybody else. Mr O’Donnell carries it off brilliantly. As his madcap and uncontrollable brother, Mark Newnham plays Dave like the school misfit, mischievously contrary whenever he can be, playing the idiot because it gets him the best attention. He handles the guitar like a dream, and is out to screw the last remaining jot of pleasure out of anything and everything (and everyone) he does – which probably is a very good representation of the real Dave.
Garmon Rhys’ Pete is the perfect downtrodden sidekick; completely unsuitable for a world where he is on show, a simple man thrust into a complex limelight, and he doesn’t like it. When he tells Ray why he wants to leave the band, it’s very hard for the audience not to respond with a big pantomime “aaaaah”. Andrew Gallo’s Mick is an unsophisticated bruiser but his heart’s in the right place; but, primarily, provider of great drum accompaniment. Joseph Richardson and Tomm Coles as Wace and Collins are a great posh boy double act, and Michael Warburton brings a steely edge to his role as music publisher Kassner. I also really liked Robert Took and Deryn Edwards as (amongst others) Mr and Mrs Davies Senior, the decent, respectable but poor people living on Dead End Street.
When they all come out for the final rock concert scene, with a mix of All Day, Lola, and You Really Got Me, it’s such an exhilarating and feelgood sensation to be upfront close to that performance. I absolutely loved it. So did Mrs C, who was, frankly, jealous of my return trip the next day. No need for you to be jealous – go and see it! The tour continues into May, visiting Cardiff, Nottingham, Oxford, Liverpool, Llandudno, York, Bradford, Bristol, Dublin, Canterbury, Norwich, Wolverhampton, Belfast and Plymouth. If you remember the Kinks with affection, or want to appreciate a chance to revisit their songs in a new setting, this show is definitely for you. And if, like me, you saw the original London show and think there’s no need to see it again, think again – this new cast is an absolute knockout!
Production photos by Kevin Cummins