The story of ‘four working class lads who took the world by the balls’ and the legacy that was left – of the band itself, to the sixties myth, and twentieth century music is one that has been told many a time. In Sunny Afternoon, it’s done with vivacity, humour, poignancy and a heck of a lot of entertainment. Having debuted at Hampstead Theatre in 2014, the musical based on the life of The Kinks is now touring – via The Marlowe, Canterbury.
It’s the twenty songs that make this. A perceptive observer of life, Ray Davies’ lyrics have an authenticity to them that is used to great effect to narrate and provide commentary on the tale unfolding on stage. Instinctive and poetic – younger brother Dave (Mark Newham) describes Ray (played by Ryan O’Donnell) as ‘thinking in song’ and tells potential managers that he just ‘boils at a different temperature.’
That temperature made and continues to make for songs that have gone down in history and left a legacy that has lasted, beyond their break up in 1996.
Ryan O’Donnell is incredible as Ray Davies, with an incredible voice and oozing a kind of melancholy magnetism like the star himself. There’s a dark humour to mark Newham’s portrayal of younger brother Dave, with his anger and youth coming out in rock’n’roll antic. The softer and more supporting members in the form of Garmon Rhys as Pete and Joseph Richardson as Robert make for a group of friends that climb and fall together.
The performers are all ludicrously talented, thrashing out the guitars and drums, as well as having fantastic singing voices that really shine when the four band members sing ‘Thank You For The Days’ a cappella style.
Written by Joe Penhall and directed by Edward Hall, the script shines a light not only on the life of The Kinks, but the music industry itself, and how little has changed. Whilst stating that ‘raw, scruffy, working class oiks are the next thing’ the managerial team saw this as a marketing gimmick, all about a cultivated image, rather than reality. There are also echoes of social fracturing, just like today, with the ‘crack amid the city’ and ‘kitchen sink leaking’ being among the impetus for their signing a contract. But as for many young people, whilst music seemed to provide a way out of ‘dead end street’, it soon proved that once commission is taken, cuts siphoned and the tax man gets involved, not only are the profits not great, but at times the price too high. As the band are reminded by Eddie Kassner (Michael Warburton), by owning 51% of the music, he effectively owns 51% of them.
The experience affected them all in different ways, fraying tensions and emotions and firing destruction: the debaucheries of Dave, his drink and hook ups making him into ‘Don Juan with a plectrum,’ Ray’s mental health as a result of travelling (and the death of his younger sister), the sense of isolation that Pete felt or the quiet anger of Robert.
London is a central character, whether it’s the suburbs and atmosphere of ‘home’ and ‘us’ or the ‘letterbox in time’ that the myth of Denmark Street, Kings Road and Carnaby Street became. There are hints of nostalgia, but not too much sentimentalising.
A tender version of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ makes me teary, and a ferocious and buzzing ‘You Really Got Me’ fizzles. The fun might have waned at times, but this musical never does. Their songs and story continue to entertain, enliven and enrapture. Adrenalin fuelled with electrifying sounds and lively choreography, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ is a dazzling show spilling with smiles.
Sunny Afternoon continues at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury to Saturday 8 April 2017. You can find a full list of tour dates here. https://sunnyafternoonthemusical.com/tour-dates
Photo credit: Kevin Cummil