Sunny Afternoon UK Tour

My favourite show goes on tour, hooray! Although, to be honest, for months I wasn’t sure what to think about the prospect of Sunny Afternoon going on the road. It’s undoubtedly great that people who couldn’t get down to London to see it will get a chance, on the other hand, it was a bit worrying in terms of massive venues it was due to play, and don’t even get me started on casting. One of the best things about Sunny Afternoon is the fact that there’s no orchestra pit, which leaves the cast to play their instruments, supported by the show’s musical director and another guitarist, so it’s not that simple to find actors-musicians who’d be able to deliver great performances, sing, dance and play their respective instruments. That’s why I spent months considering my options and trying to decide how much I wanted to see it. Then casting news came… My biggest worry was that we might end up getting names to attract audiences instead of performers who might not be that well known but who could do the job. I’m glad we got the latter.

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Garmon Rhys, Ryan O’Donnell, Andrew Gallo, Mark Newnham
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

Something that should be pointed out to avoid any confusion: this is my third Sunny Afternoon cast, I’ve seen the original and current West End incarnations loads of times, but I never ever compare them and don’t let my memories and impressions of previously seen versions interfere with what I’m getting to see now.

My first time seeing the show was meant to be in Southend in September, but one thing led to another and I jumped on the plane and got to Manchester to see it twice, including its press night. To say I wasn’t disappointed would be a huge understatement. Yes, I didn’t know where to look because all of a sudden the show I’d seen over 100 times in London felt so fresh and new, but after the first night I left the theatre feeling confident I’d get to love this version of Sunny Afternoon. Then came press night and proved me right. It’s still the show I fell in love with when I saw it in Hampstead in May 2014, it’s still the show that’s been one of the most important parts of my life for over two years, and I couldn’t be happier that my initial worries about its touring version never stopped me from coming to see it as soon as possible.

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Mark Newnham, Ryan O’Donnell, Garmon Rhys, Andrew Gallo
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

Ryan O’Donnell had spent over a year with the West End production, first understudying and then alternating the role of Ray Davies as well as understudying Dave Davies, so I couldn’t be happier when it was announced he was to play Ray full-time on tour. Being a fan of Ryan’s since seeing him in the UK tour Quadrophenia in 2009, I knew I was doomed to see the tour a lot. It’s amazing to see him being the star of the show at long last, he deserves all the praise he can get and I’m glad that audiences all over the country will get to see him. Ryan’s been developing and improving his performance and he somehow gets better every time I see him, and his voice definitely suits all those massive venues and their acoustics, there’s a lot to show off and it just works so well.

Ray’s little brother, Dave Davies, played by Mark Newnham in the touring production, is still that annoying teenager he should be. Mark has a great voice and his Dave is so annoying and irritating in the first half, you can’t help but support Mick’s decision in the Cardiff scene. First time I saw it, I was slightly taken aback. Next time, when I stopped panicking about not knowing where to look, it felt more suitable and fitting the mood of the show from ‘Sunny Afternoon’ onwards. Dave is a fun character to play and Mark’s been developing his performance becoming more and more confident and relaxed, he made the role his in absolutely no time. I’m also a big fan of his and Ryan’s duets, ‘A Long Way from Home’ is really something here.

One of the dangers in Sunny Afternoon is that the Kinks’ bass player Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory might become somewhat background characters to Ray and Dave, which should never happen. They are important and should be treated accordingly. I very much loved Garmon Rhys’s Pete, there’s that right balance of funny and heart-breaking at the same time. You can definitely see how he gets from being happy and excited about being in a band with his childhood friend to gradually getting exhausted and disillusioned. It does show in the studio scene before ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and makes ‘Rock’n’Roll Fantasy’ especially emotional. I think it’s safe to say that Garmon’s become my favourite Pete of those I’ve seen (sorry, Robbie!).

Andrew  Gallo’s Mick is hard to miss. He’s got great comic timing, he’s an excellent drummer, combination of his own skills and venue’s acoustics makes you pay attention to the drums but doesn’t overdo it and never distracts you from the whole picture. He’s funny when he’s got to be funny, angry when he’s got to be angry, and runaway drumsticks don’t put him off. Andy’s impressive drum solo has to be seen and heard to be believed. It’s one of the stand-out moments of Mick’s time on stage so it has to be memorable – and it absolutely is! The four Kinks being experienced musicians sound amazing as a band. From the first time you hear them play ‘You Really Got Me’ together all the way through to the finale they excel and manage to fill the venue with the sound. It works wonders, making every instrument heard properly, I got excited when I realised I could hear Lisa Wright’s tambourine in ‘You Really Got Me’.

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Lisa Wright in rehearsals
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

Speaking of Lisa Wright, I’m absolutely in love with our new Rasa. She’s so good I almost caught myself tearing up in the scenes that aren’t supposed to be sad, just because I couldn’t believe how wonderful she is! She’s feisty and funny, she’s perfect comic timing and she really can sing. I’d listened to Lisa’s records before seeing the show to get an idea of what to expect and I knew she had a lovely voice, and ‘This Strange Effect’, ‘I Go to Sleep’ and ‘Too Much on My Mind / Tired of Waiting’ really prove it. Lisa looks very confident and she is definitely enjoying herself playing that tambourine in ‘You Really Got Me’. She nails the balance between a young Rasa, that teenager who married Ray, and still a very young woman who has to cope with her husband’s fame and his ups and downs.

Mr Davies/Klein is played by Robert Took who spent a year understudying the role, as well as a few others, in London. He is a great choice and it’s so much fun watching him as Klein, he’s absolutely hilarious and really goes for it introducing the Kinks before the finale. I’m also very happy with the new Mrs Davies/Marsha, Deryn Edwards. Her Mrs Davies is a caring yet strict mother of a big family, I was watching her in ‘Dead End Street’ and ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ and was very much impressed by her choices.

The managers… Where do I even start? Tomm Coles as Grenville Collins is a definite standout for me and everyone I’ve spoken to so far. He plays the role to perfection and he’s probably my most favourite Grenville of those I’ve seen. He does comedy down to a tee, he’s very convincing in the scene before ‘Days’, he has a good singing voice, he’s clearly having a lot of fun and he’s very confident on stage. Joseph Richardson as Robert Wace is another good casting choice. He starts the show with ‘You Still Want Me’ and it’s one a hell of a responsibility, but you see him and know you’re in for a treat. He’s good throughout and by the time Robert and Grenville part ways with the band you don’t want them to leave.

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Joseph Richardson and Tomm Coles
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

Larry Page is played by Richard Hurst and he’s hilarious and at times menacing, which, to me, is how it should be. He’s fun to watch in the first half, especially when he’s first introduced to the band. Our new Eddie Kassner is Michael Warburton. He’s added something new to the role and I’ve been enjoying the job he’s been doing so far. When you watch the show you need to remember that Page and Kassner weren’t necessarily bad people, they were businessmen doing their jobs and getting their 10%. Their disappointment when Ray breaks it off with them is believable and understandable.

Nathanael Campbell makes a great tailor/Piven, as well as adds valuable backing vocals in ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. The cast is completed by Libby Watts, Victoria Anderson and Sophie Leigh-Griffin. Libby had me in stitches in ‘Set Me Free’, she’s just so funny and good. Sophie is a great wedding crasher and Victoria is wonderful diner girl. I’m looking forward to seeing them developing and changing their performances (it’s bound to happen) as time goes by. I’m also massively looking forward to seeing all the understudies, especially having met some of them this week.

I do believe that this touring production of Sunny Afternoon will be a great success, it still has that heart and soul that was there when the show first opened in London, it’s still fun, it still makes me laugh and cry, despite the fact that I know the script backwards, it’s still loud, it’s still Ray’s baby and it’s still the show I love more than any other. If it comes to your city/town or anywhere near you, do check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Dates and venues can be found on the official Sunny Afternoon website.

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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.

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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.

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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.