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.
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…