Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 18th April, 2017
You might think that the Kinks’ lead man Ray Davies had spent his entire life writing this musical; his songs have always had an autobiographical quality and so they support perfectly this telling of his rise to fame, if not fortune. And it’s astonishing how many I, never a devout fan, know of the songs. Their sound has a rougher edge to the Beatles’, making them more akin to the Rolling Stones, but both of these mega-groups cast the Kinks into something of a shadow. This musical goes a long way to renewing admiration for Davies and his talents as a songsmith.
Ryan O’Donnell takes centre stage as Ray, a sensitive young man who ‘thinks in songs’, clings to his artistic integrity and does the decent thing by marrying the young girl he knocks up while on tour in Bradford. O’Donnell is both powerful and vulnerable as the gifted Ray, a grounded contrast to younger, cockier brother Dave – an energetic performance from Mark Newnham – who takes full advantage of the rock-and-roll lifestyle suddenly on offer. Newnham brings a touch of punk attitude, underlining the idea that the Kinks were ahead of their time. Joseph Richardson is also remarkable as drummer Robert Wace – the musical talents of the entire cast are beyond dispute – and Garmon Rhys is equally great as deadpan guitarist Pete Quaife, unsure about his future in the band.
The highlights keep coming. There is a Lionel Bart feel to some of the numbers with the whole cast joining in. Dedicated Follower of Fashion is a lot of fun involving tailors’ dummies. Miriam Buether’s design and Adam Cooper’s choreography combine to create a vibrant 60s atmosphere, not seen since the last Austin Powers movie. Duets between O’Donnell and Lisa Wright as wife Rasa are sweet and touching – Wright sings I Go To Sleep as a solo so full of yearning it gets you right in the feels.
Unlike other stories of this ilk, it is not drink or drugs that gets in the way. Rather, the band is bogged down by legal wrangles and exploitation by a management team – it’s a refreshing change; like their music, the story of the Kinks does not follow the cliched pattern.
Joe Penhall’s book is funny and banterous – if I can use such a horrible word. Director Edward Hall keeps the action slick, the storytelling sharp, and the music infectious and irresistible. This wholly enjoyable show culminates in the all-time classic Waterloo Sunset, the finest testament to Davies’s talent, cementing his place in the history of popular music.
Superb entertainment, Sunny Afternoon provides an enjoyable evening. It’s one production where you definitely wouldn’t want them to iron the Kinks out!