The Kinks

Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife), Ryan O'Donnell (Ray Davies), Andrew Gallo (Mick Avory) and Mark Newnham as Dave Davies. Pictures: Kevin Cummins.

Sunny Afternoon

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

FOR those who lived through the 60s The Who were mad, The Stones raunchy and edgy and The Kinks were, well, The Kinks.

A band who had fights on stage, made headlines for often sensational reasons and, through the troubled mid of Ray Davies made rasamusic that ranged from gentle melody to hard, raw rock – oh and got themselves banned from the USA because of disputes with the musician's union.

As Ray’s dad, played by Robert Took, said: “It’s sod’s law that the only socialist band in the business would be brought down by the unions . . .”

Davies is one of the finest, and most prolific, song writers that this country has ever produced and Sunny Afternoon takes us through the early years of the band from their days as The Ravens (weddings and birthdays a speciality) to their rocky rise to fame as The Kinks.

Lisa Wright as Rasa

Ryan O’Donnell gives a convincing performance as the troubled Ray, a lad who just wanted to write songs and sing, never wanting to be a star, a life that had nothing in it for him. Davies, incidentally was later to attempt suicide and be diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder.

Brother Dave, though, who indulged in cross dressing among other things, played with a permanent air of teenage angst and defiance by Mark Newnham – a fine guitarist as well by the way - lapped up the stardom with the booze and the birds . . . and did I mention the booze and the birds.

Dave was also responsible for one of the great musical inovations with the power chords on You Really Got Me, the band’s first big hit.

He slashed the cone of one speaker then fed the raw, damaged sound through another, all at maximum overloaded power, a guitar distortion that was to become a mainstay of many a heavy metal power ballad.

Ray and Dave had a love hate relationship, a turbulent sibling rivalry through much of The Kinks’ 32 year history, but there was no love between Dave and drummer Mick Avery played by Andrew Gallo, just a simmering dislike bordering on hatred which saw a fight on stage in Cardiff which saw Dave taken unconscious to hospital after being lamped with a foot pedal. You can keep yer Take That’s, that’s real rock and roll for you.

Despite all that Avery was to be the next longest serving member of the band after the brothers, 20 years a Kink.

Then there was bass player Pete Quaife, played by Garmon Rhys, quiet, unassuming, and frightened by all the fame. He was to leave the band as he didn’t feel he fitted in . . . probably too normal. Pete, sadly was to die in 2010.

For no real reason as far as the plot is concerned Gallo gives us a long and skilled drum solo, which those who lived through the era would recognise as one of the cornerstones of any band’s performance, especially in arena shows. You had to have a drum solo lasting for what appeared to be days often on drum kits that probably needed their own artic to carry them around. It was some sort of rock law.

While Dave had girlfriends by the dozen, often at the same time, Ray had Rasa, his first wife, played and sung beautifully by Lisa Wright, who also weighs in on guitar anddave banjo, and a daughter. One of the few pop stars to reveal he was married giving his management team apoplexy.

There is good support from Nathanael Campbell and Tomm Coles as first managers Gregory Piven and Grenville Collins, who both play a mean trombone, joined by Richard Hurst as Larry Page and Michael Warburton as Eddie Kassner as those living off Davies and the Kinks grew.

And there is a lively ensemble covering everyone else from union leaders to shady mafia messengers.

Mark Newnham as cross dressing Dave, living the rock star life to the full.

Writer Joe Penhall and Davies, who provided the story and the music, have thankfully avoided the tried and tested, and let’s be honest, tedious, jukebox musical route of a skimpy story wrapped around a tribute act, instead they use the music to tell a real story with Kinks’ hits reworked with new arrangements to fit in with the narrative, for example, there is a delightful a cappella version of Days.

Miriam Buether’s set design is a clever one, walls of speakers, bass, midrange and tweeter cone everywhere and, this the early 1960’s remember, so it is nice to see mikes and guitars with leads trailing everywhere rather than radio link-ups. Part of the fun in those days was seeing bands untangle themselves after each song.

The only bugbear is the peninsula stage protruding into the audience a la rock concert. It means circle customers see just tops of heads and sometimes not even that.

Like Jersey Boys this is a musical about a group that goes way beyond just an excuse to pack a couple of hours with nostalgic music – hence four Olivier awards. It has a story to tell, involving real people, a working class group, people of didn’t really get on but who needed each other.

The music is there of course, familiar songs such as Lola, Walerloo Sunset and the title track Sunny Afternoon and it is a chance to wallow in nostalgia for those of a certain age, but there is much more than that to enjoy in this slick, fast paced production directed by Edward Hall. To 10-09-16

Roger Clarke

O6-09-16 

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