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.

Kinks-header

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…

 

Advertisements

Theatre Overview: February 2017

February’s been and gone and it’s time for my second theatre overview of the year. Can’t say I got to see a lot this month, it should’ve been a bit different, but I had to cancel a trip to London (and York) so the list looks less impressive than it might’ve done and this post will be shorter than the last one.

February was a month of mostly repeat visits: of my 12 theatre trips, only 2 were brand new, 7 happened to be to see Sunny Afternoon in Oxford and Liverpool, 2 were some of my favourite plays in their new homes, and I had to see The Kite Runner again, especially since I got a chance to see a different take on Amir by David Ahmad who was word perfect and did the character justice. I’ll be back to see this play in March before it leaves the West End and gives way to Don Juan in Soho starring someone called David Tennant. Sunny Afternoon tour is still my pride and joy, I can never get tired of them and, even though we’ve pretty much planned our final week with them in Plymouth, I’m dreading the day I’ll have to say goodbye to them. Touring cast is, undoubtedly, my cast, which will make partying with them even more difficult than waving goodbye to the show in London. But it’s not happening for another 2,5 months so I’m trying not to think about it too much. For now, my February theatre adventures in chronological order.

Fantastic Mr Fox (Lyric Hammersmith)

Billed as a family show, Fantastic Mr Fox is just a tad more than that. The auditorium is filled with families with kids, that’s true, but Roald Dahl’s story is so universal grown ups have nothing to worry about: they will find something to relate to, plus some of the jokes will go over their kids’ heads while being appreciated by the parents. The cast is incredibly strong and I can’t help but marvel at their energy and enthusiasm, considering how physically demanding the show is. It’s hard to single out anyone, but Richard Atwill (Rat/Bean), Raphael Bushay (Badger/Boggis) and Gruffudd Glyn (Mole/Bunce) deserve a special mention for doubling as animals and farmers as it requires some very quick costume changes. It was also a great pleasure to see Lillie Flynn on stage again and hear her sing so much. Fantastic Mr Fox is rather fantastic and a lot of fun for kids and adults alike.

This House (Garrick Theatre)

Ever since I saw This House at the National Theatre in 2012, it’s been one of my most favourite plays of the decade. It doesn’t really matter how much (or little) you know about the 70s and coalition government, this play is surely an extremely piece of theatre and I’m glad I had another chance to see it and sit of the Labour bench once again. This is a proper ensemble show led by strong performances from Nathaniel Parker and Steffan Rhodri. It’s uncanny how timely the play sounds these days. I saw James Graham at the Hampstead Theatre Festival this month and he mentioned how different lines find resonance among today’s audiences and how some people even ask him how much of the text he’d changed for this revival. The answer is nothing has been altered, it just rings truer today than ever while remains immensely entertaining and enjoyable.

The Boys in the Band (Vaudeville Theatre)

I loved this play so much when I saw it at the Park Theatre last year I decided to come back to its West End home and see it once again. While it was still the same charming and heartbreaking productions, at times I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I should’ve stayed away this time. Yes, it’s excellent, yes, its cast is strong and very well cast, but the intimacy felt at the tiny theatre in Finsbury Park was somewhat lost and I didn’t feel like sitting there, in that room anymore. It’s not a bad thing, but I was a bit upset that this sense of involvement had become weaker. Still, it’s a wonderful and important play and I’m glad I got to see it more than once.

Promises, Promises (Southwark Playhouse)

I love Burt Bacharach and when the casting for this show was announced, the deal was sealed. I can list a host of reasons why I can’t say I was overjoyed by this production (from evidently low budget to it being one of the most dated things I’ve seen recently), but I didn’t dislike it. Chuck Baxter, played by Gabriel Vick who is perfect for the role, may not be your average hero – he is trying to advance his career by aiding senior executives of his company in cheating on their wives by letting them use his apartment – but it’s hard not to sympathise with him when you get to know him better. He’s charming and caring and a true gentleman when it comes to the woman he loves. I went to see the show because of Gabriel and I can say he was definitely worth it as well as the musical itself.

Like I said, February wasn’t too busy for me, but March is shaping up nicely and I have some really exiting plans for the next month, hope they’ll live up to my expectations.

Musical of the Month: Sunny Afternoon (UK Tour)

Play of the Month: This House (Garrick Theatre)

Theatre Overview: January 2017

Just over a month ago I published my resolution of sorts to write more about theatre. Now that January is almost done and dusted, it’s time for my first “Theatre Overview”. My initial plan to choose one show of the month had to be revised as I can’t really rate musicals and plays in the same way.

Over the first weeks of the year I’ve been to the theatre 17 times: I got to see 13 different shows, 9 of them were new. Not bad, considering I’m a repeat attender, but I have a feeling the situation’s going to change dramatically because Sunny Afternoon tour is back on the road after their early January break and I have some plans regarding my visits to various locations to see it. Anyway, first things first: my January theatre shenanigans and some thoughts on the productions I saw.

lin

Lin-Manuael Miranda and cast and creatives on In the Heights in London

I started 2017 in the rather cold King’s Cross Theatre watching Lazarus. David Bowie’s musical became an important part of my life and I’m glad I saw it 3 times, including my final visit on Bowie’s birthday. It really is a remarkable production and it’ll stay with me for a long time, at least in the form of the cast recording. Of other repeat visits I should mention School of Rock, a love child of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Julian Fellowes. Considering I’m not exactly keen on either, it’s interesting that this show is now on my list of things to see to cheer me up, and I think it’s something everyone should see. It’s fun, it’s loud and it has a great story – something many productions can learn. Another important repeat visit was to see In the Heights. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to the wonderful London version, and I’m slightly kicking myself for taking my time to see it and missing out on seeing other cast variations. Still, 11 visits and some time in the same room as Lin-Manuel Miranda happened to be some of the happiest times I’ve spent in any theatre. And, of course, there’s Sunny Afternoon tour. I caught them in Cardiff on their last day there and I am so glad I decided to go – it was definitely the best venue of those I’ve been to so far and the Saturday night show exceeded all expectations. I’m happy to see the tour going from strength to strength and looking forward to seeing them again very soon.

I may say I’ve been lucky so far in terms of new productions. Of the 9 shows I’ve seen, only one made me wish I had booked something different and one left me uncertain of what I’d seen. Here they are, in chronological order.

The Red Barn (National Theatre, Lyttleton)

David Hare’s adaptation of George Simenon’s thriller would probably work much better as a film: even though scene changes and flashbacks don’t make it difficult to follow the story, they slow it down and take some of the intended suspense out of it. Bunny Christie’s set is definitely the star of the show, however, I have a feeling it might’ve been difficult to see some of the scenes from the sides of the auditorium. I went to see it because of Mark Strong, having seen him in a couple of other productions and knowing he’s worth a trip to the theatre. He is very good, no doubt, but the story lacks in novelty and power, I could easily predict what was going to happen a few scenes later and at the very end. It’s meant to be a gripping thriller, but it somehow fails to keep you on the edge of your seat.

RENT (St James Theatre)

This 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s musical would make its author proud. It has some of the strongest performers I have ever seen, both main characters and ensemble work as a whole, showing excellent chemistry between cast members. Philippa Stefani is a standout as Mimi, totally believable and heartbreaking. Scenes between Layton Williams’s Angel and Ryan O’Gorman’s Tom Collins won’t leave a dry eye in the house. This is my first production of RENT and I’m glad it’s this one. Should I ever see another version, it’ll have a lot to live up to.

Half a Sixpence (Noel Coward Theatre)

Half a Sixpence is a proper feel-good show, full of heart and excellent musical numbers. It’s hard to leave the theatre without feeling impressed by the mood the show sets, despite its simple story. Charlie Stemp is probably the brightest young musical theatre star at the moment. He spends almost all of the time on stage acting, singing, dancing, playing his banjo, sometimes simultaneously, and making it look like the easiest task there is. I’ll be very much surprised is he’s not recognised for his performance at this year’s Oliviers.

Dead Funny (Vaudeville Theatre)

With names like Steve Pemberton and Katherine Parkinson in the cast you’d expect the show to be a hit, but it’s more of a miss, with a half-empty auditorium. It’s not not-funny, it has its moments, however, the below-the-belt jokes lose their appeal 30 minutes into the first half and become slightly weary post-interval. It’s not necessarily bad, the cast are on top form, with the above mentioned Pemberton and Parkinson proving that they’re true comedy geniuses, capable of drama performances as well, but we already knew that from their other works. However, they get a little bit lost amidst the general chaos, good as they are.

Nice Fish (Harold Pinter Theatre)

This West End transfer of the play co-written by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins sees the former being good as usual at seemingly effortless performance. The play may not be the most action-packed or straightforward production in London at the moment, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless. Simplistic set and clever use of puppets help create the atmosphere of a distant ice-fishing spot. It’s funny at times and touching in other scenes, and it leaves you with a smile on your face without trying too hard.

Art (Old Vic)

Probably some of the most enjoyable 90 minutes I’ve spent in any theatre in the last few years. Billed as a comedy, Art proves this for almost an hour, with the story revolving around three friends, one of whom spends a lot of money on a questionable piece of art, leading to his friends’ disbelief and mockery. However, Art’s high point is Tim Key’s performance as Ivan, who, despite being a little looked down upon by Serg and Mark (Rufus Sewell and Paul Ritter respectively), turns out to be the most multi-dimensional character and wins the audience over in one of the key scenes.

Wild Honey (Hampstead Theatre)

For someone not exactly keen on Russian literature I spend a lot of time watching Russian plays in English. However, Chekhov has always been one of the more enjoyable writers for me and I was glad to get a chance to see Geoffrey Streatfield on stage again. The performance I saw involved a rather last-minute replacement for Howard Ward, who had been taken ill a couple of days before, so the character was played by Simon Slater with an aid of the script as he’d only had a day and a half of rehearsals. However, it didn’t diminish the effect and it was still an enjoyable evening, making Wild Honey an enormous fun and one of the more cheerful stage adaptations of Russian plays I’ve seen, as much cheerful as it’s applicable here, of course.

The Kite Runner (Wyndham’s Theatre)

(NB: This was written after my first visit to see the play, I’ve been to the Wyndham’s twice already and will definitely be back again, more than once.)

the-kite-runner

The Kite Runner at the Wyndham’s Theatre

It was a last minute decision as I prefer reading books before seeing their adaptations, but I decided to break my own rule and see the play. I know it’s only January, but everything else I’m going to see this year will have a tough job getting anywhere near the bar set for me by the Kite Runner. It’s a universal story of friendship, loyalty, hope and redemption. I see a lot of different productions, but I won’t lie if I say that I’ve never seen anything so powerful. I spent most of the time weeping in the front row and I can tell you I wasn’t alone. Ben Turner as Amir is the heart and soul of the production, changing between playing a little boy in Kabul and a narrator, a grown-up version of that kid. He’s on stage all the time and he is the sight to behold. Andrei Costin as Amir’s childhood friend and servant Hassan, and later Hassan’s son Sohrab, is making his West End debut and it’s not something I’ll forget soon, if ever. I cried my eyes out over his characters and I hope both Turner and Costin will be recognised for putting everything they’ve got into The Kite Runner.

She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

My friend and I keep breaking theatres: on the day we went to see She Loves Me, they had problems with revolves and had to change choreography and blocking to adapt to the circumstances. It might’ve added a little chaos, but the cast did their job and delivered an excellent performance. My standouts are Dominic Tighe and Katherine Kingsley as Stephen and Ilona. My cheeks ached from laughter and it was such a pleasure to see them on stage together and hear Dom’s wonderful singing voice again. Mark Umbers and Scarlett Strallen are hilarious as Georg and Amalia, they’re perfect together when they both argue and become friends. It’s a wonderful show for cold winter days when something uplifting and cheerful is needed.

That’s about it for January. I have some rather exciting plans for the next month, although they mostly involve repeat visits of sorts, but I’m determined to keep going and hope to have a lot to say about shows that are yet to come.

Musical of the Month: Half a Sixpence (Noel Coward Theatre)

Play of the Month: The Kite Runner (Wyndham’s Theatre)

Theatre in 2016

Everyone will tell you this: 2016 has been tough, incredibly so. However, looking back, it seems I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of theatre this year. I know it’s not over yet, but I’m not seeing any new productions in the next 12 days, so I might as well think of something to say about my theatre year. I don’t blog about productions I see, even though I probably should, even just for myself. Anyway, I do have something to say, so…

the-globe

By the end of the year I will have been to the theatre 146 times, which is almost twice as many as in 2015 (it was 75), and I’ll end up seeing 54 different productions (massive improvement on about 20 in 2015). As you can guess, most of those visits were dedicated to a certain Sunny show: both in London and on tour. As a matter of fact, the tour is going to be my last show of the year – which is how it should be. There have been other shows I ended up seeing more than once, for different reasons: Hangmen, In the Heights, Kinky Boots and The Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, – so it’s not just one production.

Like I said, I’ve been very lucky this year but there’s a couple of shows that turned out to be below my usual standards. The worst production I had to endure was All or Nothing, by miles. I never got round to seeing it during its initial run at the Vaults so I can’t say if it got better or worse by the time I saw it in August, but it was the one time this year when I was thinking of leaving in the interval, which I never do, no matter how awful the production I’m seeing is. I saw it through, however, to make sure it was as weak as I’d been told. That said, I tried to be as unprejudiced as possible, it wasn’t that hard. I love The Small Faces, it’s one of my most favourite bands, and it pains me to see their story treated in such an immature way. The show may have its potential, but its book needs to be rewritten and some of the characters should be recast. I don’t know how it sounded in bigger venues, at the Vaults musical design seemed non-existent and I couldn’t hear any of the vocals, which is not a good thing. You should be able to hear Steve Marriott, I couldn’t, although it’s not the only problem with this show.

I was slightly disappointed by the UK tour of the Commitments, I don’t like the changed ending which comes out of nowhere and makes no sense to me, plus it didn’t feel to me like it was the same show I’d seen in London. I’m also not quite sure about Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story. It’s a fun show, but it doesn’t have much of a story (not their fault, obviously), it might’ve worked better as a shorter show without an interval. It appeals to certain audiences and it’s still enjoyable, though. There have been some other productions I’m not particularly keen on, I knew it might happen and it doesn’t mean they’re bad – just not my kind of shows.

However, 2016 has been a very good theatre year for me. Some shows opened in 2015 but as I saw them this year, they’re on my list. I stopped avoiding musicals and, even though I may not be coming back to see most of them, I happen to enjoy and appreciate some productions. Without further ado, I give you my Top 5 shows from 2016.

  1. In the Heights (King’s Cross Theatre)

It took me a while to get to see it, I missed its original run at the Southwark Playhouse and only went to the King’s Cross Theatre in May – and I fell in love. It’s a wonderful production, its simple story is full of heart and never fails to make me laugh and cry. I’m going to be sad to say goodbye to it in January, but I’m glad I got to see it and spent some time enjoying it.

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Globe)

One of my least favourite plays and one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Globe. I’m grateful to Emma Rice for her first season and for this particular version of the play. It’s fun, it’s mad in the best way possible and it introduced me to a number of actors who quickly became some of my most favourite people. And don’t get me started on some of Emma Rice’s casting decisions: Debbie wrote a great feature on Helenus and I can only second everything she said, Katy Owen as Puck is my role model now, and Ewan Wardrop happens to be the Bottom that doesn’t set my teeth on edge but makes me cry with laughter. I’m annoyed and irritated by the board’s decision to get Emma Rice to step down in 2018, but I’m glad we still have one more year with her.

  1. Lazarus (King’s Cross Theatre)

2016 deprived me of one of the most important people in my life. Bowie’s legacy lives on, no doubt, but it’s the thought of not having anything new that’s devastating. I’m happy that Lazarus found a home in London and glad I got to see it. I’ve heard different opinions and reviews, to me it’s one of the most personal things I’ve ever seen on stage. It may be weird to some, to me it’s one of the strongest theatre experiences ever. I couldn’t stop crying for almost two hours and was visibly shaking when I was leaving the theatre. It’s so Bowie you could almost feel his presence. And don’t get me started on the cast, Michael Esper as Valentine is something to behold. My only regret is that I booked just one ticket when they went on sale, I’m going to see it again in 2017 – in fact, it should be my first show of the year – but having watched it from the middle of the front row, I want to see it from there again.

  1. Red Velvet (Garrick Theatre)

This was my most favourite production of the whole Branagh season at the Garrick – quite possibly because Branagh had nothing to do with it. It’s a timely story told by a top-notch cast, it’s Adrian Lester at his best. Productions like this stay with you for a very long time. I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking or use any other big words – it just makes you stop and look around you, and see that not that much has changed in 150 years. It’s a shame it had such a short run, but I’m so so glad I saw it in February.

  1. Hangmen (Wyndham’s Theatre)

To my shame, I missed Hangmen at the Royal Court in 2015, timing just wasn’t right (it was on around Sunny cast change, you know…) and then it was sold out so I couldn’t even try and risk cancelling something I’d already planned. However, I made up for it when it moved to the West End. I saw it 3 times and if I’d had a chance it would’ve been far more than that. There’s nothing I don’t like about this Martin Mcdonagh’s play, I could probably go on and on about it forever and I keep everything crossed that one day it’ll be back and I’ll get to experience it over and over again. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s stylish, it doesn’t matter that I know its plot twists, I still enjoy it enormously and miss it a lot. And I’m still baffled and annoyed that Johnny Flynn didn’t get an Olivier nomination for his performance – he was definitely the best thing about this incredible production.

What? Sunny Afternoon is not on the list? You may have guessed that of those shows I’ve seen more than once this is still the one I see a lot. We had to say goodbye to its London version, which was tough, even though the world didn’t end, it just feels odd knowing it’s not in Panton Street anymore. On the other hand, I have the tour, and it’s the best option I could wish for. I’ve seen them many times now and I love them dearly – it’s still the same show and yet it feels fresh and new. I look forward to spending more time on the road and seeing them in 2017.

Speaking of things to look forward to next year, I have 9 new shows to see when I’m next in London and quite a few new productions in the first 6 months. One of my favourite actors is going back to the theatre and, even though it’s another version of the play I’m not very keen on, I’m glad I’m going to see him again. I’m also massively looking forward to the new season at the Globe and I’m determined to make the most of it and see every production at least once. In November, that little show called Hamilton is going to hit London, so that’s definitely another exciting prospect, plus, even though it’s not set in stone yet, I may finally make it across the pond again and see a few Broadway shows. Let’s hope 2017 will be better in general and in terms of theatre in particular. I hope that my fellow theatre addicts will get to see a lot of great shows and that my favourite actors will get the roles they want and deserve. I have decided to try and do some theatre blogging next year. I don’t know yet if I’m going to do monthly overviews, or if I’ll just write about those shows that should get a mention, for good or bad reasons, or if I’m going to write proper blogs on every new production I see – it all depends on how much time and energy I’ll have. In any case, here’s to a good 2017, filled with excellent theatre.

“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.

sunny-closing-night

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.

yrgm

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.

sunny-afternoon-tour-mark-newnham-dave-davies-ryan-odonnell-ray-davies-garmon-rhys-pete-quaife-and-andrew-gallo-mick-avory-photo-kevin-cummins-1200x800

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’.

13995401_631232727052192_8012818660466388967_o

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.

sunny-afternoon-tour-joseph-richardson-robert-wace-and-tomm-coles-grenville-collins-photo-kevin-cummins-1200x800

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.

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!