Sunny Afternoon

Music, lyrics and story by Ray Davies, book by Joe Penhall
Sonia Friedman Productions and the Ambassador Theatre Group
Sunderland Empire

Mark Newnham, Ryan O'Donnell, Garmon Rhys, Andrew Gallo Credit: Kevin Cummin
Ryan O'Donnell, Mark Newnham Credit: Kevin Cummin
Mark Newnham Credit: Kevin Cummin
Ryan O'Donnell, Sophie Leigh Griffin Credit: Kevin Cummin
Lisa Wright Credit: Kevin Cummin

What a stellar line-up!

And for once it’s the creative team we’re talking about, each a star in his/her own right.

The songs, of course, are by the Kinks frontman and songwriter Ray Davies, the book by Joe Penhall (Olivier—and many another—Award winner for Blue/Orange at the National Theatre, plus many other credits), direction by Edward Hall (Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre and numerous credits at the RSC, the National and with his own company, Propeller), choreography by Adam Cooper (former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and creator of the role of the Swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake who has also choreographed musicals, opera and ballet across the world), and design by Miriam Buether (work with the RSC, MIF, EIF, ENO, ROH and every major producing theatre in London—and quite a few elsewhere in the world).

For audiences, however, the music always comes first and Ryan O’Donnell (Ray Davies), Mark Newnham (Dave Davies), Garmon Rhys (Peter Quaife) and Andrew Gallo (Mick Avory) do not disappoint. They are superbly supported by a cast of eleven “triple threat” performers (plus guitarist Andy Gammon) who play, amongst others, the Davies parents, a whole string of managers, union officials and everyone else who impacted on the band’s life and work.

From the hard driving “You Really Got Me” to the light and satirical “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, from “All of the Day and All of the Night” to “Sunny Afternoon”, they have caught the essence of the band perfectly. The show finishes with “Waterloo Sunset” and “Lola”, two very different, but equally typical songs, bringing the entire audience to their feet, clapping and singing along.

But Sunny Afternoon is about more than the music; it’s about the relationship between the band members (and there were tensions there), about the relationship between the Davies brothers and their parents and between Ray and his wife Rasa, about the band’s exploitation by a series of “managers”, about the political and union problems they faced in the US (some echoes of the hysteria associated with the House committee on Un-American Activities there).

In fact, it’s about too much really. I suspect there may well have been a tension between the story as Ray Davies wrote it and what Joe Penhall would want to do with it, but Davies was always going to win there. It’s no doubt 100% true to life but 100% true to life does not equate to drama and dramatic tension. It’s a problem which is endemic in bio-plays by their very nature. What to leave out is as important as what to keep in—a bit of editing helps a lot.

But for the rest—the choreography, the design, the sound (Matt McKenzie), the lighting (Rick Fisher), the direction and, of course, the performances—I can only say that Sunny Afternoon counts as one of the best of the genre I have seen.

And yeah, the music’s great. They really did get me going.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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