Sunny Afternoon: ★★★★★ from The Telegraph
Posted on 2 May 2014.
Posted in: Theatre Reviews
Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘pop lovers would be mad to miss it’
By Charles Spencer, The Telegraph
There are two different routes for those wishing to plunder the pop catalogues of the past to create a stage musical. You can take the Mamma Mia! approach and use the hits of a great band – in that case, Abba – and weave them into an original storyline. Or you can simply tell the story of the band itself, as is the case with another big hit, Jersey Boys, which depicts the career of the Four Seasons.
In this wonderful new show Joe Penhall takes the latter course, and it works a treat. The Kinks are one of the most beloved of all British bands, and as a schoolboy I bought almost all their singles as they came out, from You Really Got Me to Lola, the latter a hilarious and touching song about an innocent abroad who falls for the charms of a transvestite in a Soho club.
The latter was hardly typical rock and roll fare but then Ray Davies, the band’s front-man and songwriter has always ploughed his own distinctively quirky furrow. In my view his best songs belong in the pantheon of popular music alongside those of Noël Coward and Cole Porter and are often blessed with a similar mixture of melancholy and wit, though Davies and the Kinks could really rock out as well.
But what makes this show so enjoyable apart from the music – which is immaculately played and sung by the cast, and has the whole audience up on its feet and in state of blissful euphoria by the end – is the fact that the Kinks were also one of the most dysfunctional bands of all time. In particular there has always been a particularly volatile and often downright rancorous relationship between Ray and his younger brother Dave, the lead guitarist.
Mind you, Dave seems to have got on everyone’s wick at times with his wild-man behaviour and general brattishness. At one stage in the show we see the drummer so incensed that he clobbers Dave on the head with his bass drum pedal.
Some might complain that the story of a naive band discovering that a large part of the proceeds of their success is going into the pockets of managers and publishers is a touch predictable. But Ray Davies, who is credited with the show’s original story, clearly still has the scars on his back. And the account of their banning in the US, where they failed to tow the Musicians’ Union line, is often richly comic.
The director Edward Hall marvellously nails the humour and the pathos of the piece, with a neat design by Miriam Buether featuring scores of speaker cabinets. I particularly loved the passages in which we see the band working on songs and witness such great hits You Really Got Me and the immortal Waterloo Sunset coming together for the first time.
John Dagleish charismatically captures the wry, witty grin, and underlying sadness of Ray Davies and George Maguire is very funny as Dave, at one stage swinging from a chandelier in woman’s clothing before attacking a hotel reception desk with an axe. Lillie Flynn is genuinely poignant as Ray’s first wife, Rasa, and there are lovely comic performances from Dominic Tighe and Tam Williams as the Kinks’ first managers, two Tory toffs “having the time of their lives” with this working-class band.
It is an irresistibly enjoyable and touching night, and anyone who loves pop music at its greatest would be mad to miss it.