You’ve come a long way… (c)

Saturday, 3rd May 2014 – the day I saw Sunny Afternoon for the first time. Saturday, 13th May 2017 – the day I’m seeing it for the last time. It’s been three years, a lot has changed since my first visit, one thing has always been true – my love for this show.

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It’s been such an incredible journey for all involved, I laughed and cried more than I care to admit, I’ve met some amazing people who have become my close friends, whether I wanted it or not, and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my favourite band’s songs very loud. I realise that I may sound overly melodramatic, but Sunny Afternoon did change my life. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking in the interval that it was pretty good – the rest is history. I never got to see The Kinks as I’m too young and live in the wrong country, so the show is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being at their live gig, although it’s not the only and not even the main reason I love it so much.

Sunny Afternoon is a unique production in the world of jukebox musicals (I hate this term, more than I should, but it’s easier to explain what I’m trying to say here): I have seen a number of those over the years, and while some were more or less enjoyable and others I wish I’d never even bothered with, I was never really engaged enough to want to return immediately, if at all. Obviously, the main reason is the music – in a way, Sir Ray’s been writing Sunny Afternoon since he started writing songs, so it does seem to uninitiated that some of the songs were written specially for the show. But then we have a story, and this is where you need someone like Joe Penhall to step in. He’s a Kinks fan, to begin with, so he knows his stuff. But then he’s also an award-winning playwright, which helps when you set out to write a book for a show. And then we have producers, who are willing to get it all off the ground, good director, who’s happy to put it in his theatre, and a great cast. Sunny Afternoon has been incredibly lucky with its creative team and I can never thank them enough for putting together something like this. Underrated is another term that I hate, but after decades of being slightly overshadowed by other bands, The Kinks beat them all to it and gained a new generation of fans while reminding the others of how good they actually were.

To me Sunny Afternoon became a life-changer almost at once, even though I realised it in hindsight. Because, you know, when you change your flights so that you could come to London a few hours earlier and try and get a ticket to a sold-out performance, it must mean something. I should’ve guessed I was in trouble 3 years ago… Before I knew it, the show became my life, taking over pretty much everything – and I really don’t care how it sounds. I think I needed something like this to shake things up. These past 3 years and 10 days have been the happiest of my life. I fell in love with the show and its original cast, and there was no way back for me. All the way from the first workshop, via Hampstead, West End run, Olivier Awards triumph, absolutely fabulous day at OnBlackheath festival, lots and lots of fun to cast change. And even now, the time I spent with them is the most special. If not for the original cast and their sheer brilliance I might’ve enjoyed the show, but I don’t know if I’d fallen for it so hard. They quickly won me over and became my most favourite people in the world. I survived cast change and moved on, but to this day I miss them a lot and can never be too happy to see them in their new productions or just when I bump into them elsewhere. (It’s not launching myself at people that’s difficult, but I’ve managed so far.)

I’ve seen all 3 casts a lot of times and I am grateful to them for being there, for bringing back this music and story and introducing or reintroducing people to that little band called The Kinks. I never got to see the tour as many times I’d seen both London casts, but they’ve been around a little less and I still managed to catch quite a few shows. My initial reluctance to even try and see the touring production was overthrown in July last year, the day they announced the cast. All my tour planning resembled a small military operation and it all paid off. From day one with them I knew I’d love them a lot. It’s such a joy to see this company on stage and I’m devastated that now it’s time to say goodbye to them. I’ll see them in their future productions as much as I can, but, again, it’s this feeling of a family you get when you see them all together on the same stage. I will miss this.

I’m grateful to the original cast for being absolutely the best and making me fall in love with the show, to the second cast for keeping it alive for yet another year in London, to the touring company for being a pretty damn good reason to travel stupid distances to see them all over the country. I’m grateful to the show for introducing me to some of my now closest friends without whom these years would’ve been very different and a lot less fun. Sunny Afternoon has pretty much been my life for 3 years: 4 shows at the Hampstead Theatre, 118 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, 54 on tour, – what on earth I’m going to do now that it’s gone, I have absolutely no idea. There’re other shows, of course, and I’m looking forward to being able to see them without having to sacrifice my Sunny visits, but I’m not looking forward to having a huge Sunny Afternoon shaped gap in my life. I’ll have to learn to live without it again. It was easy before, but it’s going to be hard now that I’ve lived with this show for so long and planned everything around it for years. I am beginning to sound melodramatic again, but I’m just not sure what it’s going to be like waking up in the morning and not seeing tweets about last night’s performance…

Dear Sunny Afternoon, we had to say goodbye to you in London, but we still had the tour. Now it’s goodbye for the foreseeable future and I don’t know if or when we’re going to meet again and in what form. Just come back at some point, will you? You’ll be sorely missed and welcomed back with open arms. You’re one of a kind and shows like that don’t come along every day. Please remember that. I will see you again, I’m sure of it. For all we know, we might still have a way to go…

 

“What we had was unprecedented and unrepeated…”

Thirty months ago today I went to the Hampstead Theatre to see Sunny Afternoon for the first time. I had no idea what to expect and I definitely couldn’t imagine that it was to become one of the most important parts of my life. Last week, after just over two years in the West End, we said goodbye for now to this wonderful little show that means the world to me.

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Sunny Afternoon West End closing night
Credit: Harold Pinter Theatre

As a matter of fact, Saturday was one of the best days ever. Sad as it was, we had a proper reunion with some of the people I’d met through our passion for Sunny, it was good to have most of my now close friends together. It was also lovely to see and catch up with some of the original cast. If not for them and their brilliance I doubt I would’ve gotten so attached to the show in the first place. But the main focus was on those on stage, naturally. We had a bit of a warning from Gabriel regarding the matinee and were curious to see what tricks he had up his sleeve and we were not disappointed. However, we somehow forgot about Chris… I mean, he’s always been the one responsible for silliness and hilarity, and so many times I was worried I might die of laughter and hold him responsible for that, but on Saturday he took it on a completely different level. Knowing when to watch him (“Larry has a lot of contacts, he’s tremendously well connected…” etc), we must’ve confused some people with our laughter. Having said that, first prize goes to Niamh and Alice who conspired and gave Danny the spoons instead of the usual washboard to play in Dead End Street. The look on Danny’s face and his attempts to play the new instrument were priceless. ‘Rasa’ slapping ‘Ray’ when he told her he couldn’t get married because he was about to go on tour deserves a special mention!

After the matinee Jess cheerfully noted that it was only going to get worse from then on. Debbie, Helen and I were at our favourite table BB in the evening, which probably didn’t help matters. We warned Helen she might get drowned as we were on either side of her. I’m actually surprised because I was doing really well up until Rock’n’Roll Fantasy, it didn’t feel like the world was ending or anything, I was just trying to avoid thinking it was the last time I was watching my favourite show in that theatre with that cast. But then the last part of the show came… Rock’n’Roll Fantasy, Days, A Long Way from Home – this combination is bad enough on normal occasions, trying to stop sobbing and look up was unbearably difficult on Saturday. Only mild consolation was the fact that most of the cast were tearing up and by the end of Waterloo Sunset I wanted to offer some of them my tissues. Finale is supposed to lift you up and it did, but it was the third time I was crying during the bloody Lola – I’m not particularly fond of that song, but not to that extent, you know. Afterwards, Ray came on stage and said a few words about the show and thanked everyone involved – we were especially pleased that our beloved Fabio, the best guitar tech there is, got a mention from the man himself – and we got a handful of plectrums from Fabio, I can actually make that necklace now. After the show we managed to say our goodbyes to most of the cast, it was nice to hear that our support was appreciated. I got to catch up with Joe Penhall and tell him everything I’d been meaning to say for ages – I can never thank him enough for all the work he’s put into the show, for getting it off the ground, for working closely with Ray and yet being passionate about the result of their collaboration, I owe Joe so much and I’m glad I was making sense and he didn’t just run away from me.

Sunny Afternoon has given me a lot. It introduced me to some of my now favourite actors from both casts, it’s been constant source of happiness on my trips to London over the last 2,5 years, and more often than not the reason for those trips. All the way from Hampstead, through an amazing two years at the Harold Pinter Theatre, winning 4 Olivier Awards, performing at West End Live, OnBlackheath, Royal Albert Hall and Wembley – it’s been one hell of a ride and it’s given me so many happy memories for years to come. Initially, I was going to the show on my own or with some of my old Kinks friends, but thanks to Sunny Afternoon I now have a bunch of new friends who, I hope, will stay in my life: Sandie and her love for purple boas and fedoras, Debbie and her neverending support and enthusiasm, creator of our wonderful fan page Jess and her love for Bowie, my TeamRyan buddy and touring partner in crime Helen, Ceri and her creative spirit, our beautiful Queen of Emojis Kate, and Sarah who, despite joining our ranks a bit later, quickly became a good friend. Thank you for all the giggles and company at the show and other events, I’m glad we met.

Sad and devastated as I am now, I still have the tour and I love them a lot already, so this is not the end, even though London won’t be the same without Sunny Afternoon. It’s not sunk in properly yet, it’ll probably hit me when I least expect it, but I know for sure that I’ve had the best of times and will miss the show in Panton Street, at its London home. Please come back soon, we need you.

“And though you’re gone,
You’re with me every single day, believe me.”

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.

Meet Niamh Bracken

Another month is coming to its end and it’s time for our Cast Member of the Month interview. As with Harriet Bunton, Chris Brandon and Tom Whitelock, we chose wisely once again: our Gwen/sexy waitress/British fan/American fan Niamh Bracken has been on stage most of the time, and it’s been a great pleasure watching her. I particularly enjoy catching her finale shenanigans with Chris Brandon and Gabriel Vick towards the very end: there’s something different every time and it’s bound to be fun.

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Alice Cardy, Harriet Bunton, Niamh Bracken at West End Live 2016
Photo credit: Ksenia Nemchinova

June means West End Live, and Niamh got to perform, along with the boys and Harriet and Alice, in front of the huge crowd in Trafalgar Square early in the afternoon on the 18th June. It was also good to see the cast supporting Pride in London once again on the 25th June.

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Photo credit: Niamh Bracken

While I was in London, I was appointed to interrogate Niamh, so I caught up with her after one of the shows and asked her a few questions…

What is your favourite Kinks song?

Waterloo Sunset is a definite favourite, she also named Where Have All the Good Times Gone as This Time Tomorrow as those in Top 3.

If you could play any other character, who would that be, both male and female?

Naimh loves her track most of the girls’ as she believes they’re all very well cast. As for the boys, she’d love to have a go at playing Dave, she thinks that he’s the best character. She’d also like to play Larry because it’s so much fun.

What’s your favourite outfit and is there anyone else’s you’d love to wear?

Of her costumes she likes the British fan outfit, of other girls’ it’s Lia’s sister’s outfit and Alice’s finale catsuit.

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Niamh Bracken
Photo credit: Sunny Afternoon Fans

As always, we’re grateful to Niamh for her time chatting to us and answering our questions, it’s great to have her as part of the show. We already know who’s going to take over from her in July, so keep an eye on @SunnyAftFans, all will be revealed soon…

Cast Member of the Month: Chris Brandon

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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.