Sunny Afternoon, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - review

The rise of four working class lads from their ‘Dead End Street’ roots in Muswell Hill to become icons of the sixties music scene is a nailed-on, winning storyline for any musical – particularly when those lads made up The Kinks.

sunny
Sunny Afternoon

But if the writer also adds the satirical lyrics of frontman Ray Davies - a unique social commentary on the Britain of the day sprinkled with black humour and a hint of mockery – then you are guaranteed a work of sheer genius.

Which is exactly what Joe Penhall did – and even brought the great man himself on board to lead the musical adaptions for the show.

The result – Sunny Afternoon – is more than just a bio musical or a tribute night to The Kinks. It is a fascinating insight into the story of these British music legends, of the sixties music scene and the sociology of the time essentially told in their own words.

Too often with similar jukebox musicals there is a laborious plot tenuously linking the hits of the particular artist.

This is not the case in Sunny Afternoon. Ray Davies’ storytelling lyrics lend themselves to a musical.

From A Well-Respected Man reflecting on the middle-class commuters of the time, to Dedicated Follower of Fashion gently mocking British males beguiled by the idea of individuality and style to Dead End Street describing his humble beginnings.

There is an endless list of hits during the two hour and 45 minute show including the ear-splitting You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon, of course, and Lola.

The story follows the rise to fame of the band, the internal battles and those with both the unions of America and the record companies eating up all of their royalties.

There are wry quips about contemporaries of the band such as The Who and The Beatles with lines such as ‘Paul McCartney wouldn’t have his wife on backing vocals’. Or ‘Do you think John Lennon sits around in bed all day?’

Ryan O’Donnell is well cast as Ray Davies having quite similar quirky looks. He gives a convincing performance as the troubled song-writer, haunted by the loss of his sister, and gives a strong musical performance without mimicking Davies too much.

Much of the humour comes from the squabbles and antics of the rest of the band – Mark Newnham playing his young brother Dave Davies, Andrew Gallo playing larger than life drummer Mick Avory and Garmon Rhys as bashful guitarist Pete Quaife.

Unfortunately Dave ‘the rave’ becomes a bit too much of a caricature as the character begins a downward spiral on the rock and roll rollercoaster, which might be expected given that this is the Ray Davies version of events.

I did think too that a couple of numbers could have been sacrificed as the production seemed to push the storyline to the limit with yet another row included just to enable an extra song or two to be played.

Kinks fans will absolutely love this musical which showcases the genius of Ray Davies and the band but it will also appeal to theatre goers who simply enjoy a good story with some great tunes.

Runs at the Grand until Saturday

By Diane Davies

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