Review: Sunny Afternoon at the Orchard Theatre

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.

Photo credit: Kevin Cummins
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins
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.

Photo credit: Kevin Cummins
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins
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.

Review: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story at the Orchard Theatre

Following hot on the heels of last week’s The Glenn Miller Story, the Orchard Theatre in Dartford now plays host to another show about a musical legend taken way before their time. This time it’s Buddy Holly, the bespectacled 1950s rock ‘n’ roll star known for such classic hits as Peggy Sue and That’ll Be The Day, who died in a tragic plane crash at the age of just 22.


The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes opened in London’s West End in 1989, and since then has been seen by over 22 million people. In a format that’s become well known in recent years thanks to jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys and Sunny Afternoon, the show tells the story of Buddy Holly’s rise to fame, his whirlwind romance with his wife Maria Elena, and his final performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. And while it touches briefly and poignantly on the star’s tragic death alongside his friends the ‘Big Bopper’ J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens, the show is very much a celebration – not only of the man but also of his music, which paved the way for such legends as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

The 2016 tour stars Glen Joseph as Buddy Holly, sharing the role with Alex Fobbester. While he doesn’t bear much resemblance to the star physically, Joseph has a boyish charm, and his on-stage moves and imitation of Holly’s distinctive vocal style are – to my untrained eye and ear at least – pretty spot on (they also earn him an approving nod from my mum, who knows far more about it than I do). He’s a hugely talented musician too, as are all the cast, and between them they soon have the audience rocking and rolling right out of our seats.

Buddy Holly’s career lasted only a couple of years, but in that time he recorded around 50 tracks, and it’s surprising how many of these are familiar, even to those of us who weren’t around at the time. More than once I found myself singing along to the likes of Heartbeat, Everyday and Rave On, without even realising I knew the words. But the show also makes time in its soundtrack for a selection of other well-known 50s hits like Shout and Why Do Fools Fall in Love, all punctuated by the velvety tones of radio announcers across the States and beyond.

Photo credit: Johan Persson
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Plenty of music there may be, but the brevity of Buddy Holly’s career means there’s not actually a huge amount of story to be told in between. Act 1 is devoted to his rise to fame with the Crickets, from their humble beginnings in Lubbock, Texas – and after teasing us halfway through in the recording studio with intros to some of their biggest hits, we finally get to enjoy the songs in full during the Act 1 finale, set at the Apollo Theatre, Harlem.

The story’s inevitable tragic conclusion is foreshadowed in Act 2 by the star’s wife begging him not to go on tour, and then delayed as long as possible by some comic banter from the Surf Ballroom MC (Matthew Quinn) and two memorable performances from the Big Bopper (Thomas Mitchells) and Ritchie Valens’ pelvis (Jordan Cunningham – the rest of him is there too, obviously, but for some reason it’s the pelvis that gets all the attention…) before the whole cast come together for the irresistible finale.

The Buddy Holly Story is both a nostalgia trip and a fitting tribute to a young man who knew what he wanted and clearly had much more to give. While the story, set and costumes may have more meaning for those who were around in the 1950s, the show and its music offer a great evening’s entertainment for anyone, of any age. And if you don’t leave singing That’ll Be The Day – well, you’re made of tougher stuff than I am.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is at the Orchard Theatre until 29th October.