The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon at the Mayflower
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon when I took on this review. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and having only heard of two of the songs listed as featured in the musical (‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day and All of the Night’), I was a little bit sceptical.
When the curtain was raised and the show started, I looked around and noticed there were quite a few empty seats and the majority of the audience was, well, old. I worried that I wouldn’t ‘get’ it, or that the humour and themes would totally pass me by. I could not have been more wrong.
It got off to an odd start with The Kinks playing as a supporting band to the ‘marmite’ character of Robert Wace, played by Joseph Richardson. You would be forgiven for wondering if you were watching the right musical. After a few minutes of Wace’s performance, which played as the soundtrack for several couples slow-dancing, an abrupt “F*** this!” came from the back of the stage, prompting the band to launch into an energetic performance of an I Gotta Move/You Really Got Me mash-up. I was hooked.
From there it went from strength to strength. The production was simple, with few stage sets and backgrounds and minimal props besides the band’s instruments and amps. But it worked. It worked very well. The whole show was simple, raw and honest, and gave a thoroughly entertaining account of The Kinks’ rise to fame, with both the highs and lows of their turbulent career.
There was no sugar-coating the fickle music industry; the four front-men (Ryan O’Donnell as Ray Davies, Mark Newnham as Dave Davies, Garmon Rhys as Pete Quaife, and Andrew Gallow as Mick Avory) played their characters brilliantly, and the cast as a whole were incredible; each multi-talented as both backing-singers, dancers and masters of at least one instrument.
We start in 1960s Muswell Hill, London, and follow the story of Ray Davies and his band as they go from passionate amateurs to professional superstar musicians. We meet them at the start of their journey as they are taken on by managers Robert Wace and Grenville Collins.
From there, we are taken with them to London and follow them through their American and British tours and gigs. However, there is a huge emphasis on Ray Davies’ life and we see every major event that he faces throughout that period – from his shotgun marriage to the birth of his first child, his struggles with fame and travelling, and everything in between. They even dedicate a scene to the infamous Avory-Dave Davies fight in Cardiff which is brilliantly choreographed to be both shocking and entertaining.
For me, Mark Newnham and Lisa Wright stole the show with their incredible portrayals of Dave Davies and Rasa, Ray Davies’ teen bride. Dave is well-known as the band’s youngest member; a witty, reckless, alcohol-loving, pill-popping, cross-dressing character. He had some incredible one-liners, hilarious gestures and mannerisms and just like the man himself, Newnham subtly ensured that all eyes were on him. Wright, on the other hand, gently introduced the audience to Rasa – a woman of few words who was loyal, fierce and full of talent and emotion.
While the cast put their own stamp on some of The Kinks’ best-known classics, they remained true to the unique story and style of the band, showcasing Ray Davies’ one-of-a-kind lyrical genius. But Wright’s Rasa gave the performance of the night with I Go To Sleep. The scene was set by O’Donnell with a performance of Sitting In My Hotel, sang down the phone to his doting wife; I Go To Sleep was Rasa’s response, and you really could have heard a pin drop. Her rendition was beautiful, haunting and resonated with anyone in that theatre who has ever been away from their partner.
Overall, the musical is a must-see for anyone who loves ‘60s music. It’s fresh, honest and endlessly entertaining and emotive. A modestly impressive work of brilliance.