Sunny Afternoon seemed to sweep the West End at a similar rate to The Kinks themselves, winning Best Musical at The Olivier Awards and enjoying a sell-out run. This week, Sunny Afternoon has rocked its way to Birmingham to spread its rays to the New Alexandra Theatre.
The first thing that is so beautifully striking about the production is Miriam Beuther’s set design. Wooden speakers cover the stage, stacked on top of one another. The enclosed nature of the staging really does feel as if you are sitting in the recording studio with The Kinks themselves, a stroke of design genius.
Sunny Afternoon relies on an ensemble of actors taking on several characters throughout the production, and what an ensemble it is! Characterisation is so strong between each role that it is a challenge to work out which actor has played each of them. A strong relationship can be felt onstage throughout the production, no more so than with the four members of The Kinks themselves. Ryan O’Donnell gives a dazzling performance as Ray Davis, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, as you could feel the pressure of a boy chasing his ever growing dreams. Mark Newnham gave a stunning performance as the deluded Dave Davis, a perfect foil to his brother. Andrew Gallo played the frustrated drummer Mick Avory wonderfully, his physicality during his drum solo near the start of Act Two showed so much of Avory’s struggle that it was given rapturous applause by the audience. Garmon Rhys played the ‘forgotten’ Pete Quaife, his performance during A Rock n’ Roll Fantasy was easily accessible with the audience and proved to be a hit number.
A special performance came from Michael Warburton as Eddie Kasner, who when he opened up about his past, made for a beautifully tragic monologue. The theatre seemed to stand still, as Warburton had the audience enthralled. The show stealing performance of the night, however, came from Lisa Wright as Rasa, a beautifully considered performance as the innocent schoolgirl who’s world is shattered. Rasa was played so captivatingly that the audiences eyes flicked to her whenever she entered the stage. Wright and O’Donnell had the perfect chemistry, and their songs together were delivered with such sincerity that you couldn’t help but wish for more from the pair.
The biggest draw to Sunny Afternoon however, is of course the music of The Kinks, and you would not be disappointed with the songs on offer, with all the music taken from The Kinks back catalogue, its hit after hit after hit, all performed faultlessly under Elliott Wares' supervision and Barney Ashworth’s Musical Direction. The highlight of the show is those stunning chords of You Really Got Me ripping through the air. Sound Designer Matt Mckenzie must be praised as the songs are so loud, so full of energy that the vibrations can be felt in your seat, in the floor and in your chest, it was truly thrilling, but sometimes the music drowned out the actors onstage, making the singing itself hard to hear. The music was so wonderful however, that you couldn’t help but beam from ear to ear during those fantastic production numbers.
Sunny Afternoon is the story of four boys from Muswell Hill, who didn’t accept the fact society told them they couldn't achieve, and they went on to be one of the biggest rock and roll bands in UK Music history. It provides the Kinks's generation with a warm nostalgia, but also provides a powerful message for the younger generation, and one that needs to be told more often - in a world focused on achieving grades, it's wonderful to see the proof of what many would consider fantasy. Whatever the generation, Sunny Afternoon is a show for all.
Sunny Afternoon plays at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 10 September.
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