The Summer of 1966 must have been the best time to be alive. London was swinging (apparently), England won the World Cup and it was all soundtracked by the stunning, iconic sounds of The Kinks, with Sunny Afternoon pouring out of radio’s everywhere. But, ‘Sunny Afternoon;, The Kinks musical written by frontman Ray Davies, shows that behind the brilliance of the songs, there was a band tortured by fame, mental illness and internal strife. This was all brought vividly to life in Birmingham, at the New Alex Theatre last night.
Sunny Afternoon is the story of the early Kinks from Ray Davies side of the story. It shows the start of the famous feud with his younger brother Dave, as Ray struggles with the realities of fame and the need to keep writing hit records, whilst also juggling a young family . Dave, younger and wilder, becomes a party animal who is never without a bottle and a ‘bird’, and also spends a lot of his time wearing ladies clothing, and stealing girlfriends from fellow band members. It leads to a situation where fame is not fun anymore, and where, despite the hit records, the band are flat broke financially due to the taxman (and unscrupulous management) taking ‘all my dough.’ But the music is still electrifying.
In the role of Ray, Ryan O Donnell is superb. His Ray is serious and brooding, and has a sense of integrity that makes him a hero ahead of his time. Vocally, he totally captures the sheer ‘Englishness’ that made Ray Davies the unique icon that he remains, his harmonies with Dave and wife Rasa are perfect.
As the irrepressible Dave, Mark Newnham steals the show, with a showy, funny and charismatic turn. That said, it is undeniable that Dave is presented as almost a caricature. The real Dave is a fiercely talented guitar player, one of the most important in music history, the creator of the ground breaking riff that starts ‘You Really Got Me.’ He was also a talented singer and writer who was overshadowed by his brother’s talent, and control of the band. In ‘Sunny Afternoon’ he comes across as a joker, a bit of an idiot at times, which may be true, but there is certainly another side to that story.
The leads are ably supported by Andrew Gallo, Garmon Rhys and Lisa Wright, playing Mick Avory, Pete Quaife, and Ray’s wife Rasa. A drum solo by Gallo raised the roof, whilst Rhys played a real poignant scene as he tried to leave the band. Lisa Wright is a fiesty heroine, and her performance of ‘I go to Sleep’ is hauntingly beautiful.
The songs come thick and fast in Sunny Afternoon, with some meshed into the story line, and others used as part of recording sessions and live performances. Clever use of songs like ‘Dead End Street’ ’till the end of the day’ and ‘Stop your Sobbing’ are real highlights, while the live performances of my personal faves ‘Sunny Afternoon’ ( blended into the 1966 World Cup), Waterloo Sunset (has there ever been a more beautiful tribute to London?) and Lola (wow, just wow) are stunning, showing how The Kinks have influenced a whole generation of ‘Englishness’ through the music of Blur, Pulp, Oasis and The Jam.
An incredible tour de force which lingers in the memory long after you have left the theatre. Sunny Afternoon is not to be missed. I loved it.
Sunny Afternoon New Alexandra Theatre
Until Saturday 10th September.
For Ticket information, click here.