Sunny Afternoon tells the story of the emergence of the band The Kinks and the rise to fame of these four working class boys from Muswell Hill with all the ups and downs involved on the way: whether you are a die-hard Kinks fan or know very little of their music, this makes for a fascinating story with both famous and lesser known songs entwined with dialogue, choreography and wonderful 60s fashion.
Far more than just enjoying a succession of their songs, the audience becomes caught up in the narrative of the band’s progress: the tension of the conflict between their socialist ideals and the necessity of collaborating with – and exploitation by - unscrupulous money men, their contractual disagreements, their battle with American unions and thwarted attempts to make it in the States and of course the famed disputes within the band itself.
When The Kinks burst onto the scene the establishment was rocked by their new raw sound, songs brimming over with social comment: ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ targeted the young men obsessed with the fanciful dressing found in Carnaby Street not seeing the irony that in all dressing the same, they were losing the individuality they were originally seeking. ‘Well Respected Man’ mocked middle-class condescension, self-satisfaction and hypocrisy: “And he plays at stocks and shares/And he goes to the regatta/He adores the girl next door/’Cause he’s dying to get at her”.
All four actors portraying the band members display impressive musicianship recreating the searing guitar rifts, sing-along choruses and sheer musical energy for which the Kinks are famed.
We see Ryan O’Donnell as thoughtful Ray Davies struggling with the darker side of fame: battling unscrupulous managers, losing artistic control over his work, the cynicism of the reality behind the glamorous rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and we see him lying in bed, crippled by depression. In ‘Sunny Afternoon’ he sings about lounging in the garden, how he’s lost all his money to the taxman and been abandoned by his girlfriend – not exactly the happiness fame and fortune is supposed to bring.
Mark Newham excels as loose cannon Dave Davies, embracing in true chandelier-swinging, cross-dressing style the hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle with which his brother is so uncomfortable. Garmon Rhys produces a convincing performance as the more sensitive and over-whelmed Pete Quaife and Andrew Gallo’s drum solo as Mick Avory earns a well-deserved standing ovation.
The disharmony between band members including the explosive fraternal relationship between Ray and Dave is well illustrated, as is the general disharmony between band members at times, including the 1965 on-stage fight between Dave and Mick in Cardiff.
There are some lovely touches of hindsight humour such as when the manager says “You would never find John Lennon lying around in bed for several days doing nothing”. Other highlights for me included seeing the process of the band working together developing a new song, the touching transatlantic phone call version of ‘I go to sleep’ (recorded by The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde being a one-time partner of Ray) between Ray and his wife Rasa (beautifully portrayed by Victoria Anderson) who has been left at home holding the baby, neither of them really realising what the other is going through, the musical celebration of England’s 1966 World Cup victory and the rendition of ‘Days’. Special mention too should be given to the three female dancers who performed with amazing energy and whose outfits really brought the feel of the 60s to the production.
The show finishes with renditions of hits including Waterloo Sunset and Lola – the audience on their feet for this feel-good rousing finale. A great night out – don’t miss it.
Sunny Afternoon is at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 11th March. Ticket from: