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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.