I should’ve done it a long time ago, but somehow never quite got round to writing about the most talented and hard-working understudies I’ve ever seen. After talking about it for a bit, we named this week Sunny Afternoon understudy week, so it seems I have no choice but to say a few words. It’s a bit of a hefty read, but bear with me.
Of course, if you only get a chance to see a show once and you’re there because of a particular actor, it may be disappointing to find out that he’s off sick and someone else is stepping up. While I agree with this, I can assure you that you never know, you may like this unexpected change a lot – happened to me and lots of my theatre-crazy friends on a number of occasions.
Team B takeover during the 500th West End show on 6th January, 2016
During Sunny Afternoon’s West End run quite a few incredibly talented individuals have been covering various parts. Without them, West End would most likely collapsd, and it makes me sad when people dismiss understudies as ‘not good enough’. Try learning more than one part: dialogue, choreography, key changes – try playing different instruments and being ready to step up sometimes at the last minute and fill in for a sick cast member, especially when you’ve spent your afternoon rehearsing another part. So, yeah, I admire those people and I’m especially in owe when it comes to Sunny Afternoon and its understudies – both previous and current – because they have proven a number of times that they’re up to the task at hand.
I’m still gutted that I never got to see Robbie Durham, Verity Quade and Kirsty Mather while they were with the show, especially after hearing how great they were in their respective roles. However, during the first six months in the West End, I managed to catch Luke Baker (understudy Ray), Stephen Pallister (then understudy Mr Davies/Klein/Kassner/Piven) and Nick Sayce (then understudy Mick/Robert/Grenville) a few times. I must admit, it took me a bit of time to get used to Luke’s angrier Ray, but thirty minutes into my first show with him (New Year’s Eve!) I stopped worrying. I got to see him five times at the beginning of his almost 4-week run and he got better every time I was there.
Silas Wyatt-Barke was the only cover I hadn’t had a chance to see before the final week of the original cast and, knowing it was supposed to be the week with no holidays, I was upset thinking I’d never see him as Wace after hearing rave reviews from my fellow addicts. Fortunately for me, he happened to be on, just once, but it was enough for me to see how great he was. I enjoyed it immensely and only wish I’d had more than once opportunity to see Silas, his ‘I know a man who knows a man’ will stay with me for a long time.
I’ve seen Nick Sayce a few times and in three of his current possible guises: Mick, Wace and Collins, – he added Ray to this mix, but living in another country has its disadvantages, so I missed his short run as one of the Davies brothers when he was on last time. I’m struggling to remember when I last saw him as Wace, must be last spring at some point, Collins was the day before the Oliviers, and Mick last winter/spring and just recently when I decided to do my first double with the new cast, as it was their 500th West End performance that night. My most favourite is probably Mick, he’s much calmer than you’d expect (which is probably very close to the real Mick!), and that makes his outburst in the Cardiff scene even more sudden and shocking.
I’d seen Stephen Pallister in 3 of his possible roles during the first Sunny year at the Harold Pinter Theatre, first one was Kassner, then Mr Davies/Klein and then Larry Page. I did enjoy all of those, but Mr Davies was my favourite and I loved his interaction with the boys and Liz Hill, so, naturally, I was thrilled for him when he was promoted after cast change and is now playing Mr Davies on a daily basis.
In April with cast change some undeniably astonishing people joined the show. My excitement was caused by Ryan O’Donnell coming as understudy Ray and Dave. I’d seen Ryan in Quadrophenia ages ago, so I knew what to expect of him, and I think I wasn’t even trying to hide how thrilled I was to hear the news. I was sure he’d be a great Ray, but for some reason couldn’t picture him as Dave. I’m glad I was wrong. Ryan very nearly went on the day before the Oliviers when John twisted his wrist, but eventually he was just providing guitar accompaniment in the pit. I finally got to see him as Ray in June and I was not disappointed. He’d had some practice already, so I was really enjoying another new for me take on the part. Ryan has one of the most captivating voices I’ve ever heard and I can listen to him singing Set Me Free, This Is Where I Belong, Sitting in My Hotel or Waterloo Sunset forever. He’s now become incredibly confident and after being promoted to alternate Ray with two shows a week to play he gets better and better every time I see him. July brought four ‘Dave’ shows – I’d already heard he was great, but still needed to see it with my own eyes. He’s a more grown-up and mature Dave, the one who knows what he wants, not just spends all his time messing about, and he is just incredible. And the voice, have I mentioned the voice? Till the End of the Day was a definite highlight, as well as his singing in A Long Way from Home. I haven’t seen Ryan as Dave for over six months now and I’m beginning to think of bribing Olly and Robbie to change that.
With Ryan O’Donnell after seeing him as Ray for the first time – I even went curly for the occasion!
Vicki Manser has to be one of my most favourite people ever. She’s talented, she has a wonderful voice, she plays all sorts of instruments, can tap dance and just a lovely human being. She’s also cover for all the Sunny girls, so she’s also probably the youngest mother of teenaged boys I’ve seen. I saw Vicki as Rasa for the first time on my birthday, and I was amazed by how good and confident she was. She’s a perfect Rasa with her childlike mannerisms and Bradford accent. I keep missing her by mere days every time, so we just need to do something about it, but whenever I see that she’s on as Rasa, I know we’re in for a treat. One of the highlights of the first Sunny year in the West End, was the day I saw Vicki as Peggy. She doesn’t get to do much, but she was just the best in Set Me Free, and I had the most serious dress envy ever.
Lovely Lia Given is a true asset to the show, understudy Peggy/Joyce/Gwen, she’s very confident no matter what part she has to play. She’s been on a lot and every time you can be sure the part’s in safe hands. I particularly enjoy her stint as a waitress and recently couldn’t help but complimenting her on the wedding crasher. At some point a few months ago, she was on for Peggy one day and then for Gwen the next day. Not confusing at all, is it?
I only got to see Robert Took as Mr Davies/Klein recently, he’d had some time to settle into the part earlier on, so looks and sounds very confident and clearly enjoys himself. Oh, and I love his enthusiastic Klein before Sunny Afternoon and in the finale!
One of the Sunny superheroes is the amazing Robbie White. He understudies the four Kinks and so far has had a chance to play them all bar Mick (we’re keeping our fingers crossed hoping it’ll happen one day!). I’ve seen him as Pete and Dave and absolutely loved him. His Pete is naïve albeit hopeful, excited to starting this rock’n’roll adventure, but soon beginning to wonder if it’s right for him, because ‘it’s not exactly steady’. Robbie is a huge pleasure to watch, he’s just so natural and happy to be on stage, you can’t help but spend a lot of time looking at him. His Pete is truly heartbreaking in Rock’n’Roll Fantasy and makes me cry every time. His Dave is something completely different altogether. While those sitting at the front may fear for their lives sometimes, you know you’re in for a fab time when you see his name in the notice they put up in the foyer. I made a sound I didn’t know I was capable of last time it happened. He’s energy is infectious, his Dave is an annoying little git at first, turning into an angry, disappointed and disillusioned man from a reckless teenager. A Long Way from Home is always emotional as it as, but with Robbie on for Dave it gets a new edge. Oh, and just watch him having the time of his life in the finale! When he has some spare time, Robbie also writes his own – very good – songs, so you really begin to wonder if this man’s talens have their limits.
Kay Milbourne is yet another lovely lady, she understudies Mrs Davies/Marsha and is just perfect for the part. Her Mrs Davies is tough and strong, as a mother of six girls and two boys should be, but caring and tender at the same time. Kay’s comic timing as Marsha is incredible, I remember watching her for the first time and thinking how good she is. My only wish is too see her more often, but, as in Vicki’s case, I keep missing her by mere days sometimes. Fingers crossed I’ll get to see Kay more often this year, because she’s a pleasure to watch.
Lloyd Gorman understudies Mr Davies/Klein/Kassner/Page/Piven and he’s yet another Team B superman. His Larry Page is the best, I had a lot of fun seeing the show when he was playing on the band’s managers (not that I hate it otherwise, you know). He looks very tough and solid without being threatening. And I recently got to see Lloyd as Piven, which I enjoyed a lot, especially his stint as a tailor in the first half.
Last but not least is Alex Tosh. He joined the show in October after cast change and he’s understudy Wace/Collins/Pete/Mick. I’ve only seen him as Wace so far, he had quite and extensive run while Gabriel was on holiday, so managed to get settled and was very good and confident. I especially enjoyed a bit of a change from the usual trombone to saxophone in a number of scenes – unusual as it may be for those who know the show backwards, it added a bit of a change to the sound. Alex is incredibly good throughout, but his singing in Days is a definite stand-out for me. I was just struck by his voice’s strength and clarity in that first line.
I love our Team B a lot and I’m always happy to see them on stage: they’re incredibly talented actors and musicians, their hard work pays off and they enjoy themselves a lot when they get a chance to do what they’re really good at. Of course, I’m not saying that I don’t like our main cast, but there’s a special place in my heart for this lovely bunch of people and I hope I’ll get to see them as often as possible this year.