What do an axe, chandelier, cricket bat, and suit of armour have in common? Answer: they all appear in a particularly trippy scene in Sunny Afternoon. The hit musical, depicting the rise of The Kinks, is not all crazy antics and wild buffoonery though. The story of one of Britain’s most influential bands has plenty of emotional heart too.
It is a show of two distinct yet harmonious halves. Prepare to buckle your seatbelt in the first, as you’re in for a rampant ride. The story drives along at breakneck speed. If this were cinematic, it would be full of fast cuts and explosive action sequences. On stage, the nature of live performance means that it fails to be as slick as it would be onscreen. As a result, it takes a bit of time to position yourself amidst the pace of this production. It is so scatter-gunned at times that you could easily lose yourself in the mayhem. Add to this an element of surrealism, and you can be forgiven for feeling disorientated come the interval. Yet the exhilarating heavy rock soundtrack that dominates this first hour cannot fail to provide some satisfaction. It also gives the riotous escapades of the characters onstage some context. This is particularly true of Dave Davies, played with naïve brashness by Marcelo Cervone. The music is perfectly attuned to his wildly rebellious personality.
In the second half, there is a greater synergy between the story and the music. The foot has been taken off the gas now and we’re into a more leisurely drive through The Kinks’ back catalogue. It is also a more emotionally-arresting second hour, in no small part down to the acoustic ballads of “Sitting in My Hotel” and “Waterloo Sunset”. The songs seem to arise organically from the storyline to a much greater extent here. The effect sees the personality of Ray Davies in particular, played by Ryan O’Donnell, come to the fore. There is real scope to explore some of the themes that arise in the first act, now that the wild hysteria has given way to folk-fuelled introspection. In particular, there is a telling, if not familiar, discourse on the music industry. It is an opportunity to understand the inner turmoil of the creative musician and their struggles with identity.
Many have been influenced by the sound of The Kinks, including Oasis. O’Donnell could easily pass as Liam Gallagher in stature, though his characterisation of Ray is far more genteel and melancholic than the abrasive ‘90s pop star. Ray is the chalk to his brother Dave’s cheese. Whilst O’Donnell’s Ray drinks tea and opens his heart to wife Rasa (Lisa Wright), Cervone’s Dave is the embodiment of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Given this contrast, part of the musical’s appeal is in the relationship between the two brothers. The addition of band members Pete Quaife (Garmon Rhys) and Robert Wace (Joseph Richardson) serve only to add extra spice and flavour to the main ingredients.
As a collective, these four talented actors succeed in reproducing the inimitable sound of The Kinks. A particular highlight is their performance of “Days”. Sung underneath the most striking of ambient lighting, it is an exceptional and arresting acapella number. “Sunny Afternoon” is just as exquisite, but for different reasons. Here, the whole cast come together to perform under the iconic red, white and blue of Britain. Commentary of the 1966 World Cup echoes over the song. As the immortal line “They think it’s all over…” rings out, celebratory scenes burst out on stage and you cannot fail to smile. It is unashamedly joyous.
Overall, Sunny Afternoon is exactly what it says on the tin. There may be a few clouds that cast an emotional shadow; it might be so bright at times it’s blinding. But the music is so iconic that, whatever happens with the story, you’re still guaranteed a good time.
Originally created as part of Venue Cymru’s Young Critics scheme