Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Theatre review: Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre



I love a good Jukebox musical, but after the mediocre Let It Be (West End) and Carnaby Street (UK Tour), I was wary of watching yet another show set in the same time-period and, I wrongfully assumed, with the same style of music as the aforementioned two. Because admittedly, when I first heard about a Kinks musical making its way onto the London stage, not one famous song title or hummable melody sprung to mind and so I had no idea when entering the Harold Pinter Theatre last week, that I'd be in for an evening of rock-in-your-seat feel-good entertainment.

Sunny Afternoon is an origins story in the same vein as Jersey Boys is for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Backbeat for The Beatles, except this time around it focuses on a slightly lesser famous band to non-Brits; The Kinks. It chronicles the conception of the band from the early 1960s through to their incredible success in the next decade, including the band's ups and downs trying to make it in the USA, as they produce hit song after hit song by the likes of You Really Got Me, Dead End Street, Waterloo Sunset and of course titular track and arguably their most famous single, Sunny Afternoon.


Despite not being able to name a single one of the band's songs before entering the theatre, while watching the show I recognised the majority of the music as they are of course incredibly well-known and they were performed near identical to the originals. The casting of George Maguire and John Dagleish as Ray and Dave Davies respectively, the brothers who set up the group, was spot on as their voices emanated the classics to a tee. It was very much the Davies show in fact as the other band members, Mick (Adam Sopp) and Pete (Ned Derrington), disappeared to the background in the story of the sensitive older brother who expresses himself through songs and the younger wild child, often causing them trouble on the road.

The staging of the show was simple with a plain backdrop only changing after the interval. It very much felt like watching a real concert, as there was even a catwalk partway into the auditorium which was quirky and fun at first though it quite quickly felt obsolete as cast members continued to walk up and down the steps only to stand in the audience to watch the action unfold on stage. It became unnecessary and proved distracting when audience members continued to swivel their heads around and point at the actors quietly positioned to the sides.


Sunny Afternoon was very much a musical of two halves, with the first act exciting and energetic as the band got their initial taste of success and everything was still uphill. This was illustrated with fun and upbeat songs such as Dead End Street and Dedicated Follower of Fashion. It was in your face and loud - too much so at times though, they do need to find a better balance between the rock songs and the softer moments in the show. The second half on the other hand was much more quiet and mature, as the band members grew older themselves so did their music. There were some particular stand-out scenes where George Maguire gave heartfelt, goosebump-raising performances of Sitting In My Hotel and Too Much on My Mind.

The gentler second half didn't solely tug at the audience's heartstrings though as it was interspersed with a show-stopping moment to celebrate the band's biggest single, Sunny Afternoon, and, as has become the norm for jukebox musicals, an encore comprising a mash-up of The Kinks' greatest hits. But opposed to many other shows it was a short and fun addition to the musical and it didn't go on-and-on to outstay its welcome. Instead, they got the encore just right which reflects on the show as a whole which was an excellent balance of entertaining performances and an enlightening insight into the history of one of Britain's most iconic pop bands.




Sunny Afternoon is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 31 January 2015, you can buy tickets here.


Many thanks to Official Theatre for the tickets to the show in exchange for an honest review. 

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