Theatre Review: Sunny Afternoon at The Orchard Theatre

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I was never a fan of The Kinks – or of any of the British bands inspired by American blues and soul – I lumped them all together as generic 60s music, there to get the oldies up on the dance floor at a disco once they’d had a few drinks.

Now though, I’m curious to find out more about a man who’s become a legend of the industry, still going strong with over 50 years in the business. The story of The Kinks played out on stage made me pay much closer attention and realise the poetic genius of Ray Davies.

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From their beginnings in Muswell Hill, Ray and brother Dave, together with school friends  Pete Quaife and Mick Avory, brought us classics such as the rock-influenced You Really Got Me and the hypnotically melodic Waterloo Sunset, and played together for over 30 years before their split in 1996.

The show is funny and engaging – don’t mind the language too much – but also shows the turbulence and volatility of brothers working together when one (Ray) is sensitive and the other (Dave) likes the excesses in life.

Showcasing strong vocals and musicianship, as you’d expect from a production with the man himself responsible for adaptation, each of the cast hit a perfect note both musically and in character.

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We follow the band’s fortunes (or not, it seems) as they head for America, only to be banned by the Musicians’ Union (loving the irony of them being a socialist band banned by the unions!) and carving their niche without the breakthrough this would have afforded them. America came around in the 70s, and the band hit the stadium circuit, building a sizeable if somewhat belated following across the pond.

It’s a very English story, in fact, it’s very London-centric, Davies eschewing the northern sound of The Beatles and refusing to conform, serenading his London and its people. Concept album, The Village Green Preservation Society, lamented the effects of modernity on quintessential Englishness. Ill received at the time, it has since grown in stature. Davies never sold out; he continued to produce work true to his soul and is now widely acknowledged as a major influence on artists and bands across most musical genres and ages.

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Since the band split, Davies has continued to write – prose, as well as songs, and has enjoyed great success in musical theatre since 1981. His insightful, clever lyrics make him the thinking man’s rock star, with a host of awards to prove it.

Sunny Afternoon was the recipient of the Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Achievement last year. Don’t miss it – book here. It’s on till Saturday.

The Orchard Theatre is easy to get to – just two minutes walk across the footbridge from Dartford Station. If driving, it’s just £1.50 for the whole evening in the station car park.