NB: Despite being more or less fluent, I’m not a native speaker, so bear with me and my English, I’m doing my best.
How many times do you see a theatre show? Once? Twice? Something that you really like? Three or four times, maybe? It’s when you get to the double digits you may start worrying that something’s wrong with your life. Or, perhaps, it just proves that the show is simply brilliant.
I’ve never been too keen on musicals – I don’t mind them and I’ve seen a few but, and perhaps it has something to do with my parents trying to introduce me to some light opera when I was five or six, I tend to stay away and stick to something different. I’ve been a Kinks fan ever since I was 12. They’re not just one of the bands that I like, they’re one of the most important, integral parts of my life. That’s why, when my most favourite off West End Theatre announced that Sunny Afternoon would be their first ever musical, I thought I should give it a go. Ray Davies was involved, so, of course, I had to see the show at least once. I’m not going to lie, I was rather skeptical, I didn’t think I’d like it very much, that I’d be OK with anyone playing Ray, with some other people singing the songs I’d been listening and loving for years. But I couldn’t just dismiss it, could I? And then my friends went to see the show and they loved it, and, just in case, I booked yet another ticket. Just in case. It’s a musical, yes, but it’s about my most favourite band so why not give it a try? Here I am, seven months and fourteen visits to both Hampstead and West End later, waiting to see the show again and again.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see it for the first time back in May. I’d heard it was good, I’d read most of the reviews but you can never be too careful. However, I was hooked from the very first second. I’m a fan, I know the history of the band, so all the names, all the references were more than familiar. And the songs… Where do I even start? I’m over the moon because, apart from the obvious big hits that many will know and want to hear, I get to hear some of my most favourite and, perhaps, lesser known songs cleverly incorporated into the narrative and sung by the multi-talented cast. I can go on about them forever, because no matter how many times I’ve seen the show, I’m amazed by how good they all are. Every single member of the cast deserves a mention for being excellent actors, singers, musicians, dancers – you name it – and just some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met.
My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be able to accept the portrayal of Ray Davies. I’m so glad I was wrong, I could see how unfair I’d been the minute the show started. It’s difficult to find any sufficient words in any of the languages I know to give proper justice to John Dagleish and his performance. I can’t express it properly, but there’s one thing I’m certain of – John’s singing of Sitting in My Hotel is one of the best things that’s happened to me this year. This song is of a very personal and deep value to me and I didn’t think anyone’s version would ever make me feel the way the original does. Well, I was wrong. Again. It’s fair to say that it was ‘it’ for me, that was when it dawned on me that I wouldn’t just get away with seeing it twice. I knew I’d be back for more.
George Maguire is absolutely astonishing as Dave Davies, he clearly has a rock star vibe and yet he can be heart-breaking in certain scenes. No wonder that everyone praises his performance, and he more than deserves it. Just see the show once, and you’ll get to witness for yourselves that George clearly enjoys himself and the audience loves him to bits. One of the greatest things about the Kinks is the Davies brothers’ vocal harmonies, and when you see Sunny Afternoon the magic is there! I can listen to Just Can’t Go to Sleep and This Is Where I Belong sung by John and George on the loop, but what really breaks my heart in a good way is, of course, A Long Way from Home. It’s one of my most favourite songs ever, I love the original to bits and every time I see the show, I sit there not even trying to hide the tears, because it’s wonderful, because it’s heart-wrenching, because it’s something I rarely get to witness and feel when I see a theatre show. And I’ll forever be grateful for this.
Seeing the cast photos for the first time, I thought: “What? Pete Quaife is going to be played by a left-handed actor?” I decided not to dwell on it and was right, because you don’t really notice it while watching Ned Derrington’s wonderful and moving performance. I only ever registered he was left-handed when I was watching the show for the first time towards the end of the second half, when your eyes are on him and his walking bass-line, because it doesn’t really matter. Ned’s Pete is an understated tribute to the original, who’s, sadly, no longer with us but who’s always in our hearts and thoughts. There’re funny bits, there’re sad bits and then there’s Rock’n’Roll Fantasy. I remember going home after my first trip to see the show and crying in the middle of the street because the song started playing in my ears, and I just couldn’t help myself. Once you’ve seen it in the show, it’ll never be the same.
Adam Sopp’s Mick Avory is a true gem: he’s good, he’s snarky, his drum-solo in the second half is something to behold. The story’s focus is on Ray and Dave, and that’s, of course, understandable but it doesn’t mean that other band members are left out. Some fans take them for granted but, and that’s especially true in Mick’s case, those in the background can be an integral part of the band, and Adam’s doing great at being one of the fundamental stones in the Kinks’ history. I mean, who would put up for years with the Davies brothers’ ups and downs? Well, we all know what happened in Cardiff, I even spoke to some people who were at that gig, when Mick tried killing Dave, but I’m glad his attempt wasn’t successful. The real Mick Avory saw the show back at Hampstead and he loved it. What’s not to love?
Lillie Flynn with her amazing voice is a wonderful Rasa, Ray’s first wife. She’s funny, she’s witty and she really can sing! Normally, I say I don’t like girls singing Kinks songs but Lillie’s version of I Go to Sleep and her contribution to This Strange Effect are real assets and she deserves all the praise she can get.
Philip Bird and Elizabeth Hill are wonderful as Mr and Mrs Davies and the former as Allen Klein. Yet again, they’re great actors, they sing, they dance, and Philip plays bass. You should go and see the show, if just for the sake of the whole Davies household singing Dead End Street, which, I think, is absolutely timeless. Countless band’s managers are brilliantly portrayed by Dominic Tighe (Robert Wace), Tam Williams (Grenville Collins), Vince Leigh (Larry Page) and Ben Caplan (Eddie Kassner). We even get to witness Robert’s attempt at being a front-man. Well, we know he’s rubbish at it, of course, and has to give it up and become one of the band’s first managers together with Grenville. We know how it all ends, there’s Larry Page and Eddie Kassner, two men far better at what they’re supposed to do, two clever businessmen taking their ten per cent each. I never thought Larry Page could be so likeable but I don’t mean it as a bad thing! Apparently, he was really fun to be around back in the day.
And of course, I can’t just leave it there without mentioning Ashley Campbell and three of the most beautiful girls I’ve seen: Carly Anderson, Amy Ross and Emily Goodenough – they all play multiple parts, they, again, sing and they dance, and just seem to be having the time of their lives working on this show. I do envy them, I do, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
I’ve seen Sunny Afternoon fourteen times and have at least six more booked, but I doubt I’ll stop there. The fact that I live in another country doesn’t really stop me, because I spend quite a lot of time in London whenever I can get time off work or when I have to be there for work. One of the main reasons why I keep coming back is the music, of course, and the feeling I got when I first saw it: this musical reminded me why I’d become a Kinks fan all those year ago, why I started listening to everything I could find and devouring any information I could acquire. The most wonderful thing about the songs is that they haven’t been changed (OK, one line in one of the songs but I’m not telling you) and yet they fit in so naturally. That’s because, in a way, Ray Davies has been writing the soundtrack for many years now. And every time I take my seat to see Sunny Afternoon again, I’m reminded how much I love the Kinks, how great they are and how good it is to have a West End show that thrills everyone. I’ve brought quite a number of friends to see it, most of them hadn’t really listened to the Kinks or known anything about them before they saw the show, now they’re becoming more and more interested in the band’s history and their music, and I’m happy to be there to help.
So, if you haven’t seen it yet, then what are you waiting for? Get down to the Harold Pinter Theatre and enjoy the show. Or, if you have seen it, why not head to the What’s on Stage Awards web-site and cast your vote for the show itself (Best New Musical) and George Maguire (Best Supporting Actor in a Musical)? Just do it, you know you want to!