Sunny Afternoon is a show where the music and book combine with fabulous sets, lighting and sound which boost a satisfactory performance to a higher level. This show will be loved by those who admire the juke box approach to musical theatre.

Sunny

 …a thin letter box in time…a moment of dawn…it’s all one…

These words are from the book of Sunny Afternoon but could just as easily be used to describe the show itself. This is a juke box musical that contrives to use the music of The Kinks to tell the story of the band that was at the height of its popularity in the late 60’s. After a world premiere in London in 2014, Sunny Afternoon transferred to the West End where it has just closed.

Last night the UK touring company opened at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking to an enthusiastic audience. ‘…it’s all one…’ is apt.

This is one of many in the genre of musicals about long gone rock groups. In fact, All or Nothing at the Vaults in London earlier this year was almost its clone. If nothing else the plethora of ‘tell all’ stories highlights the injustice of the commercial world’s exploitation of naïve artists. It also shines a vivid light on the outrageous behaviours of the young performers.

It’s interesting though that Ray Davies overcame the sway of the producers with his unique musical style and the discography of The Kinks stands as a social commentary of the times. Sunny Afternoon will be an absolute delight for fans of The Kinks and the styles of the 60s and 70s.

SunnyThe music rollicks along most of the time and softens into acoustic heaven when the drama requires. Musical Director Barney Ashworth is onstage on keyboards for the entire show with his left hand man, guitarist Andy Mann. The pair provide a strong platform for the added instrumental talents of the cast with even a random pair of trombones and a banjo thrown into the mix.

The design from Miriam Buether is striking. Plenty of paraphernalia from the rock music industry dresses the stage in this impressionistic, but somewhat generic, set. It’s a clever use of space with hidden windows and large props wheeled in to extend the domain. Supplementing the rock concert ambience is enough lighting and haze to please any hardened concert goer. Rick Fisher has designed the lighting to switch seamlessly between the domestic scenes and the concert rig that is in full sight of the audience at all times.

Sound design by Matt McKenzie rocks the audience to the hilt. One scene provides a lesson on the effects of changing sound quality as evidenced in the opening riff of You Really Got Me.

The energy and enthusiasm of the young musicians leaps from the stage, with Mark Newman (in the role of Dave Davies) dominating the scenes with his quieter brother, Ray. Newman bounces through early scenes, his turn bordering on a pantomime portrayal, but he rounds the character out more in the later, denser scenes, when alcohol abuse and an inability to handle fame have soured the boy.

SunnyTil the End of the Day is the one song where Newman’s outstanding singing voice is heard in its full potential.

Ray Davies, the musical genius who overcame a stutter, is the more introspective of the brothers. He is played by Ryan O’Donnell who acts well and sings beautifully. However there are moments when even the excellence of his singing is not enough to justify the pace of his acting.

The other two members of the band were Mick Avory, on percussion, and Pete Quaife on bass guitar. Avory is played by Andrew Gallo, a fine drummer who rocks it out strongly. His acting skills are not as keenly developed though and his character lacks authenticity. Garmon Rhys has the role of Quaife. His character is less defined than the others but there are some lovely moments towards the end of the musical when Rhys fully allows the Quaife’s vulnerability to be seen.

The large supporting cast is very effective. Robert Took stands out for his versatility in two roles: Mr Davies, for his singing and warmth, and Allen Klein for his American zaniness. Tomm Coles and Robert Wace shine as the band’s first managers, adding light relief with their lampooning of class differences between themselves and the working-class boys in the band.

SunnyOn the negative side, there are two key issues with this production. Firstly, it is difficult to understand the brief behind the choreography. The throwbacks to dance styles of the times is understandable with the Whatusi and the Mashed Potato being popular in dance halls of the time world wide. However the use of these authentic elements within the overall shape of the movement is a conflict. It looks too contrived and at times clunky.

Secondly, it feels that every song ever recorded by The Kinks is used in the show, sometimes repeatedly. It’s always a problem to hone the breadth of material for the best effect, but most often the ‘less is more’ principle works. This is especially evident in the second Act.

Sunny Afternoon is a show where the music and book combine with fabulous sets, lighting and sound which boost a satisfactory performance to a higher level. This show will be loved by those who admire the juke box approach to musical theatre.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Sunny Afternoon
SOURCEPhotography by Kevin Cummings
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Viola Patrick
Viola has been obsessed with all things theatre since she was young and first encountered the Les Miserables soundtrack. Totally hooked, Viola later studied Theatre at Reading University, where she was able to perform on stage, as well as writing and directing her own material. She has written theatre reviews for newspapers and magazines and is looking forward to joining the exciting world of LivetheatreUK.com and online reviewing.