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Sunny Afternoon: A Hit New Musical About The Kinks - Review

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
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When I interviewed the creators of Diana, The Musical, I was told that very few productions have original material. They told me that a lot of musicals were called "juke box musicals", as they crammed a load of a bands hits into 90 minutes around a story. Sunny Afternoon is no exception, but it is. While this paradoxical statement is about Sunny Afternoon is seemingly just another McMusical, based on the work of Ray Davies & The Kinks, it is a far more sophisticated creation than I expected.

With its multi-layered performances, the cast playing the roles of the band were literally playing the band. This would give Stanislavsky a massive smile if he heard them playing with great credibility, as they do.

Aside from pleasing the inventor of Method Acting, it effectively blurs the distinction between a live gig and a musical. Since the cast are the musicians, we are torn between thinking this is like a school production, or something more Stanislavsky would approve of, but we always end up coming on the side of the latter.

If you look at the contract signing scene, one actress plays a percussion instrument to make a ticking clock when the Davies Brothers' dad has to countersign it (Dave was only 16 years old at the time). The scene where Ray and Dave were developing 'You Really Got Me' left me jumping out of my skin as Dave connected two amplifiers in series, then slashed the speaker cone (this is exactly how Link Wray developed Fuzztone in the late 1950's, used to great effect on 'Rumble'). As Dave plays those chords, the whole theatre reverberated with raw power of fuzz and he asked:"Now What?"

This brilliant comic line really set the tone for the rest of the show, which poked fun at the absurdities of the music industry in scenes where the band were asked to sign their first contract, or the fact that Ray Davies had his wife on backing vocals becoming a joke about Linda McCartney in Wings. Most of the gags were given rapid fire delivery and with accuracy that would put John Lee Malvo to shame, such as the idea that pop stars get knighthoods. This comedy was so accurate and witty, I was laughing at every joke. Even ones where there were used to relieve tension or build up to something. The spoken dialogue is so witty that it snaps and pops like great vynil, with the crackle left to the amps. You will be both rocking and reeling with both tunes and gags, mark my words!

At times, it reminded me of a film about Joe Meek as it was as much a performance of the creative process as much as the story of the band. Scenes in the studio were effectively showing you how something was developed, such as 'Waterloo Sunset' as well as 'You Really Got Me'. It was a real education of sorts, albeit one that let the songs take centre stage, but merged with the dialogue a nd story seamlessly. The contract signing scene went into a version of 'Dead End Street', which is an accurate snapshot of Britain at odds with the image of the Swinging Sixties. Ray Davies even said Swinging London was a distraction that hid the truth about Britain's poorest in Dead End Street (with three million people inadequately housed between 1968-1972), foreshadowing Paul Weller and punk.

The show was filled with scenes that really explored the idea of the creative process as a conflict and collaboration, with conflicts between producers and band members gripping enough to keep you captivated by the blurred line between sibling rivalry and professional conflict. At what point does one end and another begin? You keep asking yourself these questions, but as you realise the uplifting nature of the message that fraternal love conquers all, even as a band conquers the world. You are left feeling you really had a lot of fun at this peculiarity. Is it a gig by a tribute band or a musical? It's both, but one that shows The Kinks music, message and legacy is one that's relevant today. If you have influenced everyone from The Hives, The Jam and solo Paul Weller to MC5, The Stooges and Billy Childish, you'd be bound to have an honour of a musical based on your life and work. Who do you think would be next?

All images appear courtesy of www.facebook.com/SunnyAfternoonTheMusical

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When: Booking until May 23 2015
Where: Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN
Your Comment
Congratulations for winning the invite. It sounds like it was a great performance.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12470) 1814 days ago
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