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.

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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.

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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.”

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.

West End Live

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.

Pride

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.

Niamh

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

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!

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.

cast notice

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.