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A CurtainUp London Review
When you get the back catalogue from a group as good as The Kinks, you can approach it in three ways: at its most simple, the tribute concert which was Let It Be. . . the biographical play with music that was Backbeat or Jersey Boys . . . or the fantasy story set around the songs like Mamma Mia is with Abba's hit numbers. If you choose your band well you can make a very successful musical as Edward Hall and Joe Penhall have done with Sunny Afternoon which transfers from Hampstead Theatre to the Harold Pinter in the West End.
Whether these biographical musicals work well or not depends on the original lyrics and how well they fit into a storyline. Sunny Afternoon owes its impact to Ray Davies (John Dagleish) writing about his life and his perception of the world with lyrical skill. It's not just the Kinks' rock tunes that are so brilliant but the meaningful lyrics.
The Kinks' music has influenced a generation of popular music and beyond. The ups and downs of the band with the rows between Dave Davies (George Maguire) and others in the group including his elder brother make for a dramatic story which Joe Penhall has adapted into the book of the musical from Ray Davies'story of their first two years in the business.
The musical opens in an early 1960s club with rather sedate debutante types dancing in long evening frocks until they break into "I Gotta Move" and get altogether more lively. "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"beautifully describes the Carnaby Street influenced 1960s. From early days in North London with six sisters, at The Clissold Arms and practising in their bedroom, while his brother Dave Davies searches for a raw, sonic, extreme sound on his amplified guitar, their managers introduce Ray's songs to music publishers in London's Denmark Street with the song "Denmark Street".
Miriam Buether's design has a backdrop of the circular insides of loud speakers, a mini recording studio set up and a long walkway stretching out in the centre of the stalls to Row G. Her 1960s dolly birds are adorned in mini dresses and Adam Cooper's choreography has them dancing to The Kinks' tunes. This musical captures the spirit of the era and when they go on the BBC's "Top of the Pops" with "You Really Got Me"there is a squad of gyrating Pan's People dancers. At the rear of the auditorium are nightclub style tables for a few of the audience.
What makes Sunny Afternoon real is the relevance of the lyrics but what makes it outstanding is the quality of performance. The actor musicians are supported by a live band but they all sing their own songs and play their guitars and drums as well as acting. Some are veterans of Propellor, Edward Hall's all male company known for their lively Shakespearean interpretations. John Dagleish shows Ray's conflicts as touring to the USA and his wife and child present differing demands and they fall foul of the American trade unions. George Maguire is tremendous as cross dressing, bi-sexual Dave Davies, eccentric and off the wall but almost impossible to work with, remembering of course that this is elder brother Ray's version of events.
In terms of believability and great tunes, Sunny Afternoon convinces and pleases in equal measure due to great craftsmanship by director, writers and actors. It is the whole package and had the whole audience on its feet for the last half hour of memorable songs.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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