Cast Member of the Month: Chris Brandon

Larry&Eddie

Jason Baughan & Chris Brandon
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

One of the advantages of seeing Sunny Afternoon more than once (or even more than twice) is that you get to notice other characters and not just the Kinks and you get to really appreciate them. When we were deciding at the @SunnyAftFans HQ who was going to be our next cast member of the month, it didn’t take us long to agree that it should be our very own Larry Page, Chris Brandon.

His previous theatre credits are quite impressive and extensive, including some Shakespeare (Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe and Oliver in Sam West’s production of As You Like It at the Sheffield Crucible to name but a few), as well as George in the national tour of Three Men in a Boat and Tom in The Great Gatsby at the Wilton Music Hall among many others. He’s also appeared on the small screen in Soldier Soldier, Heat of the Sun, M.I. High and Endeavour (and the latter is where I know him from), as well as in a few shorts.

Chris&Niamh

Chris Brandon and Niamh Bracken
Photo Credit: Charlie Tighe

Chris took over from Vinny Leigh in October and almost immediately became one of the audiences’ favourites. We’ve all agreed by now that he’s a true comedy genius and I’ve lost count of how many times I was giggling like a loon, especially in the first half: from the ball at the very beginning of the show and his interaction with Gabriel Vick in ‘You Still Want Me’, to the most hilarious and yet business-like Larry Page possible, to Rasa’s angry Dad in the wedding scene that leaves the audience in stitches every time – you know you’re in for a treat and a good time if you decide to pay attention to Chris’s antics. As far as I know, the real Larry’s friends/relatives have seen the show and commented on his performance saying he’s just like Larry was back in the day – best seal of approvement possible when you’re playing a real-life character.

Chris easily made Sunny Afternoon his home and it’s a great pleasure to watch him because it does look like he’s enjoying himself immensely when he’s on stage. I always look forward to seeing him in the show and looking out for whatever silly little things he may come up with next.

Lia&Chris

Understudy of the Month Lia Given & Cast Member of the Month Chris Brandon (plus terrified cameo from Dominic Tighe)
Photo credit: Charlie Tighe

We hope to learn more about Chris over the course of the next few weeks and we’re gearing up to ask him some questions while he’s still talking to us, so if there’s anything you’d like to know, contact us on Twitter or Facebook or comment here, we’ll put your questions to Chris later in the month and share his answers towards the end of it!

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I can’t think of a place I’d rather be…

Whenever I go to London, I try and see Sunny Afternoon more than once – not just because it’s my most favourite show but also because I know that they’ll never let me down and I’ll enjoy my time spent watching them again and again. The most fun is to try and see all eight shows in one week, it’s live theatre so it’s bound to be different every time and it’s a fab experience. I did this with the original cast during their final week, and although I really enjoyed it I couldn’t help thinking I was doing it for a slightly sad reason. This time, I decided to try and do it a bit earlier, so when something work-related came up I grabbed the chance and put other theatre plans and wishes aside and set on seeing all eight performances of what was looking to be a great week.

With Ryan being on holiday, I was finally in for a chance to see Robbie White as Ray. He’s played all four Kinks now and he’s definitely one of the best things that’s happened to Sunny Afternoon so far. I’d seen Robbie as Dave and Pete but seeing him as Ray was one of my dreams. Monday marked his first performance of the week and I’m so glad we were there. Monday audiences are usually quiet so I’m guessing it’s nice for the cast to see some friendly faces. To say I wasn’t disappointed with Robbie’s Ray would be an understatement. He’s vulnerable and endearing and I caught myself tearing up in a couple of scenes that had never had that effect on me, and This Time Tomorrow before Set Me Free and Too Much on My Mind were particularly affecting. I’ve said this many times: Sunny understudies are the best and most hard-working in the West End. Being part of a small company for a musical means most of them have to cover more than one big role, having to learn the show several times. Robbie was on for Mick for a few shows less than a month ago, then he had four shows as Dave, and his next show meant him being on for Ray – those are huge, very different and demanding parts to play, so it’s a real testament to Robbie’s talent and energy that he manages to do and actually enjoy it a lot. He was on for Ray on Wednesday night as well, and that was on the of best performances I have ever seen from anyone, I’m now completely in love with Robbie’s voice and the list of things I want to get recorded by this cast grows with every show.

Another cast holiday meant I got to watch Lloyd Gorman as Piven/tailor all week. Like many others, he’s covering a number of roles and every time it’s so much fun, I remember gasping for air from laughter a few months ago when he was on for Larry Page. I’m looking forward to catching him as Eddie Kassner one day because it means he gets to do some drumming as well and I’m always curious about various talents of the Sunny folk. Since we know the show backwards after seeing it a lot of times, it’s great to catch them doing something differently, ad-libbing or adding little new touches to the characters. We immensely enjoyed some extra Lloyd stage time last week with him becoming a proper roadie in the Cardiff scene and adjusting or picking up the boys’ mics and untangling some wires – we’re a silly bunch, so it doesn’t take much to make us happy. Lloyd is our “Understudy of the Month”, Jess blogged about him for our Team B week in January but there should be something else on its way in a bit.

Speaking of ad-libbing, Danny’s mention of the Spanish Inquisition in one of the scenes is now among my top favourite moments, and speaking of our leading man, he just gets better and better. I remember seeing the show with this cast for the first time and thinking they were good, now, five months on, they’re exceptional. Danny’s Ray is something to behold and it’s not a secret that he enjoys playing him a lot. In fact, so much that he managed to finish the show on Saturday despite his injury that was clearly causing him a lot of discomfort. I was told afterwards by some of the cast that they were prepared to stop the show and do an emergency takeover but he decided to soldier on and do his job. Much as I was worried looking at him visibly flinching through most of the second half, I can’t help but admire this determination.

I can go on for hours about our ‘managerial representatives’. Gabriel Vick and Charlie Tighe have found the balance I couldn’t see at first, so Robert and Grenville have now become an amazing double act that’s so much fun to watch. Their dancing in You Really Got Me alone is worth coming to the show and sitting in row F on the left-hand side – whenever I’m sad now and need some cheering up, I remember this (as well as Danny in the dentist chair). Gabriel once joked that he gets to sing all the best hits in the show meaning Denmark Street, but, on a more serious note, his singing in Days always gets me, he has a very clear and distinctive voice. My personal favourite is Chris Brandon’s Larry Page. I remember worrying that Sunny Afternoon’s version Larry was waaaaaaay too likeable when I saw the show for the first time in May 2014, now I don’t seem to have any problems with that, the real Larry was fun to be around back in the day and that’s what really matters. Chris is a comedy genius, if I ever die of laughter during the first half I’ll hold him personally responsible. From one of the guests at the ball where Robert ‘Bobby’ Wace introduces the Ravens, to Rasa’s hilariously angry Dad in the wedding scene, to every moment Larry’s on stage – there’s a lot to look out for and a couple of times over the last week people sitting next to me probably thought I was having a fit or something because I couldn’t stop giggling thanks to Chris.

cast notice

Cast notice, 5th March 2016

Second half of the week brought more surprises. Tom had been complaining about his throat for a few days so I guess it was just a matter of time for Robbie to step into Pete’s shoes. I came to the theatre on Friday, saw the notice in the foyer announcing this, and nearly shrieked when I realised I was sitting right in front of him (I had B15 initially but table CC was empty and I thought it was a real shame, so I moved there before the show started). Last time I saw Robbie as Pete was in August 2015, so it was the first time with this cast for me. Friday was a fun show but I guess that the fact how much I enjoyed it has a lot to do with Robbie’s presence on the stage. I always feel sorry when one of the cast members is off sick but, as we have a very solid Team B, there’s nothing to worry about quality-wise, and as we love our Team B we’re nothing but happy to see them being amazing and winning over their audiences. I think it was the first time I had a proper look at Robbie’s Pete during Sunny Afternoon: he gets from being excited about the World Cup to confused by everything that’s happening around him, looking lost and unsure while others are having fun, – and that’s such a good lead-up to the next scene, I don’t know why I never noticed that before (see, even after 80+ visits, I still manage to discover new things).

After the show, Robbie hinted that he might get to play another Kink on Saturday because Olly wasn’t feeling very well but he was still on for Pete at the Saturday matinee – I was quite happy to settle for that. However, things changed and Danny had to step down for the evening, with Robbie taking over as Ray again. It meant only one thing – Alex Tosh was to make his debut as Pete. I saw Alex as Robert Wace in January, he had quite a long stint and grew very confident playing the character, he was on for Grenville shortly after that, which, alas, I didn’t get to see. Being a second cover means you may only very seldom get to play the character, and Saturday night was just the case. I saw Alex after the matinee, he was extremely nervous, it turned out later that Ray Davies was watching the show that night so, really, no pressure. Olly, on the other hand, was excited about the Kinks line-up that no one had ever seen. If I hadn’t seen the show before I would’ve never been able to say it was the first time Alex was on for Pete. Nerves probably helped made some of the scenes more endearing and his bass playing was confident and up to very high standards, which made us pick up our jaws from the floor when he told us he’d had to teach himself to play the instrument for the show! Seriously, are there any limits to these people’s talents? Another amazing thing is the support Alex was getting from the rest of the cast: little gestures here and there, looks of encouragement to make sure he was alright and was actually there – nothing that would affect the whole thing but made it a bit more special. Something else to add to all the praise: Alex is on for Wace this week, after seeing him a few times in this role, I can only say that he’s amazing and he gets to play saxophone, adding different mood and notes to the songs he’s involved in, plus his singing in Days is just ever so good.

Sunny girls sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve despite being very important to the show. We’re currently introducing the lovely Harriet Bunton as our “Cast Member of the Month” on the fan page and Debbie wrote a little something about her but you may expect more in the coming weeks. Harriet made her mark quite early on and she’s a lot of fun to watch: her banter with Ray and Dave when sister and Mrs Davies invade the room where they’re trying to practice, her Kinks groupie in the UK (I particularly enjoyed watching her clinging to various Petes in Set Me Free last week) and in the US (“I’ve got his hair!!!”), her chasing Wace with his briefcase and tambourine in Dead End Street, her wedding crasher – you can’t help but love her. A lot of credit has to go to Lia Given, who has been a lot recently playing one sister or another but mostly Peggy, meaning she gets her solo moment in You Really Got Me. With Lia you know that you’re in safe hands when you see her name up on the covers notice.

One of the highlights of the show for me these days is Olly’s guitar playing in Waterloo Sunset. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it made me jump the first time I came to see the new cast back in October. I remember thinking then: “So THIS is what it’s supposed to sound like.” With Waterloo Sunset being the most beautiful song and the one that never fails to make me emotional, it just adds an extra layer of something special to it and makes me cry happy tears every time I hear it in the show (and, apparently, it makes me look very cute – who knew…). Olly found a way of actually singing and not screaming in Till the End of the Day, after being unsure if he could find a balance when he first started a few months ago, and his Dave is angry and heartbreaking at the same time in A Long Way from Home. He’s grown in confidence in these five months and is a joy to behold.

Seeing all eight shows of the same production in one week is not an easy task, especially when you get up early to day seat after going to bed late after seeing the show the night before, however, it was so worth it: I didn’t see two shows that would be the same, even when it comes to the cast – new combination every time, including two show days. They were asking me on Thursday if I was bored of coming to every show but it’s a silly question, really. How could I be? I have so many more amazing memories after last week, memories that will keep me going while I’m away from London and Sunny Afternoon on my longest break since the one between Hampstead and West End. I’d do it all over again, and probably will, I’m curious to experience their new performance schedule from May so they’re not getting rid of me that easily.

eight out of eight

Eight out of eight shows in one week

Sunny Afternoon Team B appreciation blog

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.

500th show

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.

ryan

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.

 

 

There’s a starman waiting in the sky…

On the first Monday of the year, I was standing by the door in Heddon Street in London, the scene for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust cover, thinking I should listen to the record upon my return home. A week later, I was listening to it indeed, but how I wished my reasons for that had been different. Mondays suck by default, but this particular Monday was the worst by far. I heard the sound the world could make when it comes crashing down around you, and it was difficult to breathe sometimes, I was looking at the people and wondering how they could go about their business when something so terrible had happened.

Long as I remember, I was aware of Bowie’s existence. I can’t think of the time when I didn’t know who he was. My parents were into different kind of music when I was a kid and they still don’t quite understand him, so the only explanation I can come up with is that he was part of me from the very beginning. After all, Labyrinth did come out the year I was born. On the other hand, I can’t say when I became a fan. It didn’t happen in one day and took some time, but then I found that I had most of his albums and was listening to them on repeat for days on end – that was during my first year of uni. Hunky Dory was my favourite record at the time and probably still is, although the string of his late 60s – early 70s albums is always with me. Hero? Legend? No doubt. To me, he’s someone who helped shape my world, maybe it wasn’t that obvious at the time, but in hindsight, without Bowie and his music it would’ve been an empty place.

He may not be the greatest singer, but you can definitely say it’s him when you hear his voice. I remember listening to Space Oddity for the first time and reminding myself to breathe, I was afraid to move worrying the spell might disappear. Of course, it didn’t, it’s Bowie, once he’s there, he’s there for good. I always knew that should I need him, he’d be there, I just needed to reach out and take one of the records from my shelf. So, in a way, nothing really changes, he’ll still be with me no matter what, it’s just… There won’t be any new records to wait for, and that’s something I am yet to come to terms with. I was listening to Blackstar when it came out and I was amazed how someone could still be so brave and keep surprising his fans releasing albums among which you can’t find two similar records, after all these years. I don’t think it’ll become my favourite, but it definitely gives me a lot to think about. Watch the Lazarus video and consider that he was recording the album and making that video knowing he was saying goodbye, and then look at his last photos taken just last week. Says it all, really.

I am yet to process it properly, to stop the world collapsing around me and learn to live on with a huge hole in the fabric of reality. But then again, I can see the stars through it, and I’m sure he’s somewhere out there. Bowie didn’t die, he can’t do that. I look around, talk to my friends and can’t help thinking that he’d me amazed and amused by this outpour of love and gratitude. I always thought that while there was Bowie there was hope, but it’s evident, at least for now, that he’ll live through his music and his films, so there’s still hope while he’s remembered. I may not live on the same planet as him anymore, but for over 29 years I shared it with him and I’m grateful for this.

blackstar

Blackstar by Ksenia Golubkova aka @erebusodora

We might still have a way to go… (c)

Tom Whitelock, Danny Horn, Damien Walsh and Oliver Hoare

Tom Whitelock, Danny Horn, Damien Walsh and Oliver Hoare
Photography by Kevin Cummins

Almost a year a go to the day, I blogged about the original Sunny Afternoon cast. I guess it’s something to do with December being cold and dark that’s finally prompted me to say a few words about the new Sunny folk. They’ve been at it for over two months now and I’ve seen them 4 times (should’ve been more but I got distracted by other shows, believe it or not), so I have something to say about this new, regenerated version of my still favourite show.

I had no idea when I’d return to Panton street after 3rd October. I knew I’d be back sooner or later but was thinking I’d give myself and the new cast a couple of months. Long story short, I was there by the end of their second week. Having met most of them before and hearing good things from my fellow addicts, I was very optimistic about it. It didn’t stop me from being absolutely terrified when I took my seat – maybe I should’ve booked somewhere a bit further back but it was too late to worry about it.

Harriet Bunton, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Niamh Bracken, Damien Walsh, Jay Marsh, Alice Cardy

Harriet Bunton, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Niamh Bracken, Damien Walsh, Jay Marsh, Alice Cardy
Photography by Kevin Cummins

The best thing about the new cast and their take on the show? They’re different – extremely good different. Nobody wanted to copy their predecessors and I knew it wouldn’t be the case, but I was glad to see it with my own eyes. I somehow managed to block my memories of the original cast and store them in a safe place – they’re not going anywhere, they’re always with me, but they’re not interfering with my present relationship with the show.

It’s somewhat grounding to see a few familiar faces on stage: Alice Cardy (switching from Joyce to Peggy), Jason Baughan (continuing as Eddie Kassner) and Stephen Pallister (promoted from understudy to full-time Mr Davies/Klein). When the new cast announcement came, I was relieved: I knew some of the names from other productions or film/TV but there were no really “big” names, which means the show, its cast and Ray’s music remain the star.

Gabriel Vick, Charlie Tighe

Gabriel Vick, Charlie Tighe
Photography by Kevin Cummins

The new folk are multi-talented and clearly enjoying themselves. I’m glad I had a bit of a break between my visits, I’m getting to see how they’re developing their characters, and, I must say, I’m pleased with what I see and hear. Niamh Bracken, Harriet Bunton and Megan Leigh Mason have found their place in the show, and I particularly enjoy Niamh’s diner girl and her interaction with Danny Horn in that scene as well as watching Harriet in Set Me Free and her wedding crasher character. Gillian Kirkpatrick is a very formidable Mrs Davies – just watch her in Dead End Street and in the wedding scene – I’d expect nothing less from a mother of 6 girls and 2 boys.

The Kinks’ new managerial representatives are… erm… represented by Gabriel Vick as Robert Wace, Charlie Tighe as Grenville Collins and Chistopher Brandon as Larry Page. While I was very much enjoying Gabriel’s performance from the very start, I wasn’t entirely sure about Wace and Collins dynamic when I first saw them in the show. Either I’m just getting used to it or something’s changed indeed, but it was more balanced when I was back later. Jay Marsh has a number of characters and utilises a range of good accents, and I especially enjoy watching him during the Ravens’ gig and then in the second half.

Oliver Hoare, Danny Horn, Damien Walsh, Tom Whitelock

Oliver Hoare, Danny Horn, Damien Walsh, Tom Whitelock
Photography by Kevin Cummins

The new Kinks are… I’m not sure any words could do them justice and would very much like to have any kind of recording of this cast. First thing that strikes about them is how confident they sound as a band. Of course they’re all accomplished musicians but they do sound as if they’ve been gigging together for years and years. Tom Whitelock (Pete Quaife) and Damien Walsh (Mick Avory) have been developing their characters and seem to be less overshadowed by the Davies brothers than they were early on. I can only hope they’ll continue going in the right direction, because Pete and Mick were vital ingredients in the band’s success – putting up with Ray and Dave, touring and staying more or less sane was not that simple, as we can see in a scene or two. Tom is a highly skilled bass player, and I enjoy Damien’s drumming throughout the show and especially in Waterloo Sunset, his “kick” is spot on.

Oliver Hoare’s Dave reminds me of my sister – younger siblings and all that. I was watching him during Dead End Street and couldn’t get rid of the thought that something was very familiar, and then it dawned on me. It’s a good thing, before you say anything. His Dave is an arrogant and annoying teenager and it makes you wonder how other people don’t come up with a drum pedal idea long before Mick in the Cardiff scene. Oliver is a fantastic guitar player and you’re bound to notice it. When I was watching them for the first time, I was very tired and on too little sleep, but when he started playing Waterloo Sunset, it made me jump. If I thought Oliver was amazing then, next time I was in he was beyond my most optimistic expectations.

Danny Horn

Danny Horn
Photography by Kevin Cummins

Danny Horn is our new Ray. I knew Danny from his TV work and somehow felt weirdly confident when I heard he’d be taking over from John Dagleish. Five years ago, I was watching another Doctor Who Christmas special, and Danny was in it, I thought something along the lines: “Oh, this boy reminds me of Ray.” Prophecies, anybody? Sunny Afternoon is Danny’s West End debut and it’s safe to say it couldn’t have been better for him and for us. I can’t be grateful enough for the way he’s portraying Ray: he’s ethereal and captivating, he’s made this role his own in absolutely no time and he manages to capture the mood and the atmosphere perfectly. It’s a bit scary – good scary – how much he sounds like Ray in some of the songs. Close your eyes during You Really Got Me or Where Have All the Good Times Gone and you’ll be amazed how difficult it is to tell the difference. It’s as if the original tracks have been rearranged or remastered and rereleased. After my first visit, Danny carefully inquired what I had to say of the show (“It were alright!” ©) and especially my favourite song – he was pleased to hear that Sitting in My Hotel still had made me cry.

I think it’s clear from all of the above that I’m very much enjoying this new version of my favourite show, this musical for those who hate musicals. I hope it’ll continue to make people happy and just get better and better. I am coming back and can’t wait to see it again.

I won’t forget a single day, believe me…

When you know for months that something’s going to happen on a certain date, you’d think you may be prepared by then and get ready to face it all. It’s probably true, although sometimes it doesn’t go the way you think it will.

full company

Full company of Sunny Afternoon before the final show.

Photo credit: @KinksMusical

Last Saturday marked the final performance of the original Sunny Afternoon cast. I don’t think I have quite managed to process it yet, but it’s true. I saw them for the first time in May 2014, two days after their Hampstead press night and halfway through the initial run of the show. Seventeen months and 60 shows later, I was there to see the end of the first beginning, as Ed Hall called it. In fact, I spent last week at the Harold Pinter theatre, watching every single show, and I witnessed eight completely different performances. Knowing about it for a while, I decided to spend that week in my favourite seat (I’ve gone through my tickets now: I’ve had the same seat 33 times out of 57 at the Pinter and over 10 times sat somewhere very close to that one – not fussy at all) and I think it was only fair.

with John

Photo credit: Debbie Gilpin

Monday felt a bit odd, calm before the storm, I suppose. I’m glad I finally got to see Silas as Wace that night. I remember being strangely happy on Tuesday, I guess it had a lot to do with seeing some of the new cast before the show (they’d moved into the theatre for their tech week) and bumping into Joe Penhall, he was later excitedly introducing us to his friends at the pub. On Wednesday, it was great to see Ryan one more time with – I keep correcting myself because I start writing the word ‘current’ and then remember they’re not there anymore – with the original cast. I’m going to miss his and George’s duets. And his and John’s while we’re at it. Wednesday evening was when it properly hit me for the first time, but, thanks to incomparable Philip Bird and his skills of improvisation, I had a lot of fun in the second half and absolutely had to thank him afterwards. It didn’t stop me from getting emotional towards the end though. It was lovely to see former understudies, Luke Baker and Robbie Durham, in the audience in the afternoon and briefly catch up with Ashley Campbell in the evening. The whole week had a feeling of a reunion with friends, to be honest. Thursday will remain one of the happiest days ever for a very long time to come. Debbie, Jess, Sandie and yours truly had spent a few months preparing some leaving gifts for the cast and we decided to give them away before the last day, predicting stage door madness on the 3rd. It couldn’t have gone better, for all of us. And the show that day… According to Philip Bird, the last Thursday of the run is almost all the time one of the best, and it was definitely true in this case. I thought it was just me being stupidly happy and projecting my mood on everyone and everything around me, but the cast and fans alike confirmed afterwards that it was a very special night for all involved indeed. It almost felt like seeing the show for the first time, as if it was something new, undiscovered and, therefore, incredibly exciting. Things like that don’t happen too often, so I’m pleased I got to be there. Friday was yet another great show, and then there was Saturday.

Afternooners

Photo credit: Debbie Gilpin (camera)/Helen Gardner (legwork)

I woke up with tears in my eyes, but managed to pull myself together and decided to have as much fun as possible, despite knowing that a very special chapter of my life was about to end. We had no idea if we’d get to catch any of the cast after the shows that day, so spent the time before the matinée hanging around the theatre and wishing the arriving cast all the best for the day. It was lovely to see Amy Ross, she came to drop off some gifts on her way to the Adelphi. It was definitely a fun show, filled with laughter and almost with no tears, almost. We got to see most of the cast after the show, say our goodbyes-for-now just in case, because I, for one, wasn’t going to be at stage door in the evening, knowing there would be too many people and too little time (spoiler alert: I did go, creature of a habit).

Amy

With Debbie and Amy

Photo credit: Sandie Smith

Usually, when I take my Sunny seat, I know that everything will be alright and the world is a happy place. I couldn’t even look up when the boys appeared on the stage, and then Dom’s “for one last time, I am Robert ‘Bobby’ Wace and we are the Ravens” pretty much set me off. I was desperately trying to avoid thinking “this is the last time they’re doing this”, but it didn’t stop me from sobbing my way through the first ten minutes of the show. Then there was that piano version of This Time Tomorrow, and then This Strange Effect, and then This Is Where I Belong… But I knew that I had a second half to somehow go through. Everyone I know had said that it’d be very emotional from Days onwards, but I knew that my world was going to end much earlier. I was talking to Danny Horn the day before and he remarked that, probably, the second half starting with Sitting in My Hotel was going to be difficult to go through. You’ve no idea how true it was in my case. It’s still a bit of a blur, but after that one I only stopped crying for a bit during Sunny Afternoon, thanks again to Philip Bird for making me laugh at John’s expense. Final part of the show is about a lot of people saying goodbye, and it was especially heartbreaking last Saturday. Rock’n’Roll Fantasy with its “for all we know, we might still have a way to go”, Days with a group hug from Adam, Dom, George, Tam and John at the end, A Long Way from Home with the boys clinging to each other, Waterloo Sunset with its magical effect on everybody… Everyone was on their feet before the lights went down. Saturday’s audience was the most appreciative I’ve ever seen in a theatre, and I do see a lot of productions (well, maybe not this year). The final finale was rocking as ever, it was lovely to see Silas (in a terrible wig!) having his final bop, and then the understudies and Amy appeared on the stage to hand over the presents, and then Ed Hall said some wonderfully kind words about the cast leaving the show. He managed to reduce everyone on and off that stage to tears, but it was a beautiful moment and I realised once again how much I love that bunch of incredibly talented people and most genuine human beings and how proud I am of how far they’ve come since the first workshop a few years ago, all the way through the 6-week Hampstead run to the West End, winning 4 Olivier Awards and just being the best at what they’re doing.

tickets

Can you guess my favourite seat? 😉

It did hit me harder than I could’ve imagined, I know I’m going to see some of the people that have become very dear to me very soon and I’m grateful for the most amazing times I’ve had watching them over and over again. I’m going to miss them terribly and I wish them all the best in their future endeavours. The best thing is that the show lives on, the new boys and girls have already started their Sunny journey and I can’t wait to see them, especially having met some of them last week and hearing great things after their first show. It’s going to be different, but there’s no way I’m going to compare them to the original cast, it’s a new chapter in the show’s life and I’m going to start exploring it soon. Here’s to many more happy and Sunny years!

“It’s not about the words, it’s about the atmosphere. It’s all about the atmosphere. I wanna see it; I wanna feel it. The way things are, really. A feeling of home, London, us. Lost and found – alone, but together. It’s all about us.”

Ray Davies Day: my favourite Kinks albums

It’s that time of the year again, the man I love the most and have loved the longest, Raymond Douglas Davies is turning… But does it really matter how old he is? Don’t think so, not to me anyway. He’ll always be the man who changed my life when I was a little girl and heard A Well Respected Man for the first time. I should’ve guessed back then the effect his music would have on me and my life, talk about being struck by lightning. I never got to see the Kinks, they’d played their last gig 2 years before I even heard of them, but I’ve seen Ray quite a few times and am looking forward to seeing him again in just over a month. But I’m getting carried away, I wanted to use the opportunity and write about my favourite Kinks albums. I love them all to bits, obviously, but there’s a few that really stand out. I picked 5, after some deliberation, and I’m going to talk about them. They’re in no particular order and I had to skip The Village Green Preservation Society, because everybody knows and loves that one, so that would be cheating.

albums

Even from my fellow Kinks fans I sometimes hear that the band had nothing to offer after Lola. Wrong. One of my most favourite albums, Phobia, was released in 1993. Oh yes, the Kinks were still recording and touring back then. It may not be their best release, but it definitely has a number of tracks that make this record truly enjoyable. My favourite is probably Surviving, it’s 6 minutes long but I somehow never notice it.

The other favourite from Phobia is Still Searching, the song that somehow helps me make peace with the rest of the world when nothing goes right.

When all my energy starts letting me down,
I get this feeling I’ll be still wandering ’round.

I couldn’t miss the next one. It’s Arthur. It’s Ray Davies at his best and finest. It’s the album that everyone should have because it’s just that good. How many 25-year-olds can write something even remotely close to this?

Released in 1977, Sleepwalker was a huge turning point for the band. They’d recorded and performed a number of rock operas in the early to mid-seventies, and, having moved record labels, were getting back to something that was more or less familiar to a casual fan. I sometimes just put it on repeat and listen to it for days on end, there’s not a single bad or weak song, and the whole album just proves that it’s still that band that gave the world some of the best songs ever written. My favourite has always been Full Moon, and here’s Ray singing it in 2011.

Another 70s gem and their first RCA record is Muswell Hillbillies, country album with a load of North London references. Because why the hell not? And… Well, it can’t get more English than this.

And last but not least, my most favourite Kinks record at the moment, Schoolboys in Disgrace. Ray’s writing genius, his astonishingly clear voice on that one and Dave’s incredible guitar playing make this album one of those I can’t stop playing. I could easily post every single song from this record, but that would be cheating again, so let’s settle for the following two. The First Time We Fall in Love with its key and rhythm changes blew me away when I heard it for the first time.

Love can be exciting, it can be a bloody bore.
Love can be a pleasure or nothing but a chore.
Love can be like a dull routine,
It can run you around until you’re out of steam.
It can treat you well, it can treat you mean.

And then there’s No More Looking Back.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share my most favourite song ever. No, it’s not Waterloo Sunset. It’s this one from 1978.

Happy birthday, Ray. Thank you for the days and plaaaaay the music!

photo