FringeReview UK 2016
Sonia Friedman Productions and ATG, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Just For Laughs Theatricals, Glass Half Full Productions, Rupert Gavin
Venue: Theatre Royal Brighton
Festival: FringeReview UK
Sunny Afternoon rocks Brighton‘s Theatre Royal with Ray Davies’ Kinks music lyrics and story given book treatment by Joe Penhall, directed by Edward Hall. A single striking set by Miriam Beuther features speaker-encrusted walls like barnacles with speakers, occasionally occluded by for instance U. S. flag-drapes. This single space spreads out because Adam Cooper and Lia Given ensure the cast dance halfway up the aisles. Beuther’s catwalk thrust prongs a similar intrusion. Rick Fisher’s lightings service grungy bedsit through Waterloo sunsets and bright fame. Elliott Ware’s musical supervision treated by Matt McKenzie’s sound is possibly the loudest this theatre’s experienced.
Ray Davies’ Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon rocks Brighton‘s Theatre Royal with Davies’ music lyrics and story given book treatment by Joe Penhall, directed by Edward Hall. A single striking set by Miriam Beuther features speaker-encrusted walls like barnacles with speakers, occasionally occluded by for instance U. S. flag-drapes during that country’s hosting of the band that got banned.
But this single space, doing service for eggbox acoustics – of teen rehearsal hatcheries – recording studios and stadia, spreads out because Adam Cooper and Lia Given ensure the cast dance halfway up the aisles in an immersive choreography. Beuther’s catwalk thrust prongs a similarly winning intrusion. Rick Fisher’s lightings service grungy bedsit through Waterloo sunsets and bright fame. Elliott Ware’s musical supervision treated by Matt McKenzie’s sound is possibly the loudest this theatre’s experienced, exploding with experiments on the opening chords of ‘You Really Got me’. It does. The audience additionally get sprayed with champagne if they’re lucky and pettled with – well go yourself and see.
It’s 1964 and brothers Ray and Dave Davies (Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham) have yoked Ray’s shrinking best friend Mick Avory (Andrew Gallo) and bruiser bassist Peter Quaife (Garmon Rhys) to an elementally unstable but fruitful partnership; it occasionally explodes and dissolves but somehow survives over thirty years though we end in 1970.
They’re discovered by two toff financiers Grenville and Robert (Tomm Coles, Joseph Richardson) who realize Robert’s brief singer career’s wholly upstaged when other stockbroker belters start dancing to the belt-out Kinks – Bridget Riley black-and-white kaleidoscope dresses briefly dazzle, just one stand-out costume feature. Another’s the emerald green then cadmium red zoot suits the young stars get encased with.
The stockbrokers bring in ex-singer Larry Page (nervous fixer Richard Hurst) and Eddie Kassner (Michael Warburton, Viennese survivor with a paternal hand and bleak backstory) and they’re perilously launched, despite Ray’s refusing to fix his teeth, as kinked as the band’s name wished on them. Ray’s Lithuanian Bradford girlfriend Rasa (real singer/songwriter Lisa Wright’s ethereal soprano quite magical when used) becomes after pregnancy, crisis and marriage the fifth Kink.
Davies tells his own story: actively involved and with his own hits he nails this musical is on a par with Tommy. It’s crucially more autobiographical, more transparent, though similarly ensuring The Kinks like The Who earn their place in the commanding quartet of British pop groups of the period, perhaps ever. On the first night, one rival the real Status Quo, were playing piquantly nearby.
Davies identifies one thread, shared with Rasa. His older sister gave him a guitar for his thirteenth birthday and dropped dead dancing the same night. She too created songs, and that lost chord’s what Ray’s been searching for. It marks the tender tenebrous ache haunting Ray’s existential exhaustion, even breakdown; even Rasa can’t reach him there.
The inevitable crises – ambitious sexually driven Dave clashing with Pete, needy Mick continuously feeling left out, always leaving, the comic denouement of their U. S, tour – all these are studded with songs literally charting the narrative, cleverly woven in.
After ‘You Really Got Me’ we get the more ambitious ‘All Day And All of the Night’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ pricking Dave and the management who get served ‘A Well-Respected Man’ too, personally-inflected social satire in ‘Dead End Street’ and several intimate duets with Rasa, like ‘Tired Of Waiting of You’ ‘Set Me Free’ and more upbeat, ‘Till the End of the Day’.
The second half features ‘Sunny Afternoon’ in a spectacular synchronicity with the 1966 World Cup final, as British flags and wild fans dance, confetti flies and everyone feels happy except of course the band themselves. Ray creates a chord especially for semi-detached Mick (Gallo fines down his persona: bluesy musician, shrinking violet) singing ‘Rock’n Roll Fantasy’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’ blazes its twangy magic, with a finale after another crisis, and that subversive back-beat seducer ‘Lola’ with its processional cat-walk rhythm.
Each of the leads is both actor and extremely fine singer and musician. They really play despite the backing. O’Donnell rivets presence first as Joe Orton lookalike then dragged anchorman always centring the musical action. This radiates in Ray’s high counter-tenor that touches a stratospheric head-to-head with any Andreas Scholl, even ranging close to Mark Rylance’s castrato persona Farinelli. O’Donnell captures too Ray’s edgy Ortonesque wit, and quizzical inwardness, riven with a paralysis of doubt, so he can only talk in singing, much to Rasa’s despair leading to one of their most touching duets, the mesmerically intimate ‘I Go To Sleep’. Another is the close-harmony a cappella rendition of farewells to the now out-of-depth stockbrokers and others, in ‘Days’, beautifully rendered.
Much is acted out in songs not least through Newnham’s pugnacity. Newnham excels as show-off, on-edge flamboyant guitarist. He’s as happy head-butting as butt-and-guitar-butting, indeed amp-incising to get the sounds he wants. Rhys drums himself to seismic glory, and several of the cast notably Victoria Anderson’s Gwen and Sophie Leigh Griffin’s Joyce, both Davies sisters and lithe catwalk-cavorting groupies play trombone alongside Warburton, Richardson, and Coles. Each of the cast fixes an identity and musical performance that enhances the ensemble.
Other narrative streams collide more subversively. Deryn Edwards and Robert Took do duty as anxiously supportive parents doubling elsewhere as Americans – Allen Klein’s very different brash persona is a gift of contrast for Took, almost unbelievably the same actor.
What makes this outstanding is Penhall’s wit and deft charactering of core band and satellites who interact with the complexity of a play, the way the songs move the narrative forward and are given believable geneses, no matter how they actually arrived; which might often not be far away from what’s presented here. There’s outstandingly snaky choreography and stage business of moving cast on and off stage into the aisles, and the way these act in character even when fading upstairs through one of the theatre boxes. Most of all the musician-actors themselves, in character, comic, vulnerable, and immensely convincing as if they’d been taken over by The Kinks themselves.
Hall is just at an apex where collaborative fusion between creatives has to boil at the right temperature. There’s no doubt this tour, with one or two (like O’Donnell) with experience as alternates or understudies of the original production can come into their own glory as equals of the Hampstead/West End production. What’s also exceptional is how this production rises to the challenge of mounting a spectacular in such an old theatre where musicals can’t always visit. It does seem though as if they’ll burst out at any time. This outstanding musical deserves the awards its original incarnation garnered – and it brings back The Kinks forever sharing the peak of British pop with The Who, The Stones and pre-eminently The Beatles.