Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks Musical at the New Alex Theatre

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Review – Let it Be at the New Alexandra Theatre

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of The Beatles. As a child I had one of those ‘first’ record players (I know there are some people reading this right now thinking what’s a record player – grrr). These were the portable ones with a lid and a carry handle and it went everywhere with me. I used to plunder mom and dad’s record collection, and loved ‘From me to you’, ‘Hello Goodbye’ and ‘Get Back’ on that instantly recognisable Apple record label. For me, The Beatles are the standard that all other bands aspire to, their music is what the word ‘classic’ was invented for.

And that may be why I was so utterly excited to get the chance to see ‘Let it Be‘ the smash hit theatrical concert that is dedicated to recreating those classic Fab Four moments. This is a truly fabulous theatre experience, one which starts the minute you enter the auditorium. Vintage style television screens, both centre stage and in the corners of the theatre, set the scene, showing classic 60s television clips and advertisements. By the time the concert starts, you have been transported back in time to the early days at The Cavern.

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But make no mistake, this is not a play, or a cheesy musical with Beatles hits added to tenuous links, this is a concert, pure and simple, with sublime hit after sublime hit. Performed by Ben Cullingworth, James Fox, John Brosnan and Reuven Gershon, ‘Let it Be’ takes the audience from those early days in the Cavern, to ‘She Loves you’ at the London Palladium, (with that infamous ‘Rattle your jewellery’ quote thrown in for good measure by the Reuven Gershon – earily uncanny as John Lennon) right up to the 1970 final (American) single ‘The Long and Winding Road’, the fabulous songs just keep coming. I loved the Shea Stadium segment, complete with a backdrop that showed all those screaming fans. ‘Daytripper’, ‘Drive my car’, ‘Ticket to Ride’ – all the hits were there, and they all sounded fabulous. Mention too has to be given to the costume changes – these added to the nostalgia trip and the general feeling that this is the closest you could now come to seeing The Beatles.

The first half ended  the groundbreaking Sergeant Pepper, and the majestic ‘A Day in the Life’ , a song that has always sent shivers down my spine, and did so once again.

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The second half saw less costume changes as we entered the difficult period post Brian Epstein. This section had some definite highlights – a beautiful ‘In my Life’ from John, a lovely acoustic tinged ‘Blackbird’, and another sublime piece of music in George’s ‘While my guitar gently Weeps’, a song that shows the genius of the ‘Quiet Beatle’. The segment and show ended with the touching ‘Let it Be’, the audience had their arms in the air and sang every word to one of The Beatles most loved tunes.

But it couldn’t really end there – and as the audience shouted more, the Fab Four responded in the only way possible – an almighty sing-along to ‘Hey Jude’. With this perfect ending, it really was time for goodbye – but what a fabulous night everyone had experienced.

Let it Be is currently on a UK Tour, and is at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 22nd March. Click here for ticket information.

I couldn't resist...

I couldn’t resist…

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Marilyn Monroe by Eve Arnold

Maybe it was because she was a woman, but Eve Arnold never felt the need to over sexualise Marilyn Monroe like some of the studio photographers did. In her photographs, many taken on the set of The Misfits, Marilyn is an earthy presence, beautiful and natural, a captivating woman with undeniable vulnerability.

I first became a fan of Eve’s work in my late teens. A huge fan of Marilyn since childhood, the name Marilyn Monroe evoked images of a glorious goddess in gold lame, or standing over a subway vent as her skirt lifted around her head, a fantasy figure who was somewhat over-worldly. Then I discovered that an exhibition of photographs by Eve Arnold was coming to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, and that she had photographed Marilyn, so I set off to see it. I was astounded by the beauty of the photographs I saw, the new Marilyn revealed to me. For whilst the early photographs by Eve, taken in 1954, included Marilyn wearing leopard print in the bulrushes, the later images revealed Marilyn as a flesh and blood woman with flyaway hair and flaws.

This was a slightly fleshier Marilyn than the goddess of The Seven Year Itch,  making a film written by her husband Arthur Miller that showed the disintegration of their marriage, a marriage that would end with the filming. A pack of Magnum photographer’s accompanied the filming, including Henri Cartier Bresson, and Arthur Miller’s third wife, Inge Morath. But it is Eve who captured her subject best, casual in jeans and chunky knits, still beautiful, but older and wiser than the girl who posed in the bulrushes.

Eve Arnold died this week at the age of 99. A true legend in times when the word is bandied around, her work will ensure that she lives on forever, a giant in the world of photography.

Further Reading

Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation [Hardcover

The Misfits: Story of a Shoot [Paperback

Eve Arnold’s People [Hardcover