Sunny Afternoon won a bunch of awards when it opened to rave reviews in 2014, with fans of all ages going crazy over it (I know of someone who saw the show over 100 times). When I finally got along to see the show in the West End earlier this year, I enjoyed it a lot – but didn’t fall for it quite as hard as most other people seemed to.
I’m not sure what was different this time. Maybe it was because I was closer to the action, maybe because I knew the songs a bit better. Maybe I was just in a better mood, who knows. Anyway, whatever it was – I’m now officially a convert. In fact I’d go so far as to say this is the best jukebox musical out there (sorry, Jersey Boys fans), and certainly one of the best shows we’ve seen at the Orchard this year.
Written by Joe Penhall and Ray Davies, and directed by Edward Hall, the show charts the Kinks’ often bumpy ride to stardom, and includes all the familiar hits – You Really Got Me, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Waterloo Sunset… – and a few unfamiliar ones too, at least for those of us who weren’t around at the time. There’s an enjoyable mix of full-on 60s rock ‘n’ roll and quieter tracks like Sitting in my Hotel and This Strange Effect, including a gorgeous a cappella rendition of Days, which give the cast an opportunity to show off their incredible vocals.
But although Sunny Afternoon follows what we might call the standard formula of the jukebox musical – humble origins, rise to fame, trouble at the top, feel-good finale – the story and its characters are also sufficiently interesting in their own right to ensure the show’s appeal extends beyond fans of the band. Feuding brothers, a shotgun wedding, breakdowns, break-ups – there’s more than enough here to keep anyone entertained. It’s also unashamedly British; the Kinks were London boys through and through (and actually got banned from America at one point), and it’s difficult to watch the show without feeling at least a little bit patriotic.
Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham lead the cast as the Davies brothers: Ray, the sensitive genius songwriter, and Dave, the band’s guitar player and full-on rockstar. Their troubled relationship with each other and those around them is the main focus of the story, but not to the exclusion of the other band members; they each get their moment in the spotlight too – Andrew Gallo wows the crowd with a spectacular drum solo, while Garmon Rhys is thoroughly adorable as permanently petrified bass player Pete. They’re supported by a cast of talented and versatile actor-musicians, who swap smoothly in and out of a multitude of roles (and wigs) as managers, fans, parents and more, so it seems like there’s a lot more of them than there really are.
Sunny Afternoon is a colourful (in more ways than one) celebration of the Kinks’ legendary music. But there’s more substance to the show than a lot of jukebox musicals, and maybe that’s why it’s been such a huge hit. Or perhaps it’s just because it’s disarmingly good fun. Either way, it’s one of the best of its kind and definitely worth checking out.
Sunny Afternoon is at the Orchard Theatre until 19th November.