REVIEW | Sunny Afternoon, Opera House

This celebration of a great British band will put a spring in your step, says Glenn Meads

Written by  Glenn Meads | Follow @glenn_meads | Wednesday, 24 August 2016 10:57

*****

SUNNY Afternoon began life at the Hampstead Theatre. The Kinks musical was so successful that a swift West End transfer ensued and it remains in London until October while meantime touring the country. First stop: Manchester. 

What strikes you from the off is how enduring the Kinks music has become. From Lola to Waterloo Sunset and Dedicated Follower of Fashion, each one of these songs has more than a beat - there are fully formed narratives here about the UK, the class system and love. 

Screenwriter Joe Penhall’s book is quite slim. He hasn’t got very much to work with really, yet the usual rags to riches anti-establishment band comes good, and with success comes in-fighting and sibling rivalry. The way he ingeniously allows the songs to breathe within the narrative means that nothing here is shoe-horned. 

An A Capella version of Days is used as a farewell song and I Go to Sleep is sung with genuine heartache by Lisa Wright, as Ray Davies’ wife Rasa. In her hands, this song is a delicate flower and is incredibly moving. 

Ryan O’Donnell has played both Davies brothers in the West End and you can tell: his is a nuanced performance, here playing Ray as a gangly, at times fearful, yet talented man. His musicianship is superb and that is another selling point of this excellent show; everyone plays their own instruments, but this does not feel clichéd or play-acting. You get a real sense of watching a band perform live.      

 

The concert scenes are exhilarating and, on the night I attended, they really got the audience going. With the stage awash with union jacks, Sunny Afternoon is a celebration of British music and this quirky band have the tunes to make you misty eyed and nostalgic. 

Mark Newham has a childlike quality, which totally suits Dave Davies, who acts like a deer in the headlights. His cross dressing is rushed and glossed over, but his sheer defiance shields the fact that he wants to change, as fame has come along too quickly. 

Deryn Edwards and Robert Took deserve a special mention as the Davies parents: they have great stage presence and double up as members of the ensemble and other roles. 

If you watched the Olympics, felt a great sense of pride and want that to continue, Sunny Afternoon will provide you with a pick me up. 

As, even though it sometimes feels like a sanitised love letter to the sixties and the band, there are some scenes that feel genuinely raw. 

Edward Hall directs with real care and precision, so that the show ends up appealing to people who do not usually like or see musicals. And that is to be applauded, in a market crammed with juke box musicals with no feeling. 

The ensemble and supporting actors run around the auditorium in character, ensuring that you are enjoying yourselves, but this never feels forced. Because whatever the weather outside, this Kinks musical will leave you with the feeling of a sunny afternoon all year round. 

Sunny Afternoon is at the Manchester Opera House until 27 August

 

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