Empire Theatre, Sunderland – 4th to 8th October 2016
Olivier Award winning Sunny Afternoon rocks into Sunderland this week. A jukebox musical based on the life and music of the Kinks. Like The Buddy Holly Story and Jersey Boys before, it’s a tale of dreams and aspirations, complex contracts, volatile relationships and, ultimately, success in the face of adversity. Written by Ray Davie and Joe Penhall this show is far better than a mere tribute evening, though it includes lots of Kinks classic hits, songs like You Really Got Me, Lola, Waterloo Sunset and Dedicated Follower of Fashion, It gives you a strong sense of period and also well-drawn characters that evolve with the band.
The Kinks were certainly no strangers to drama; not only did they have the ultimate sibling rivalry but they also had the ‘distinction’ of being the first British band to be kicked out of America. We follow the boys from the brink of their discovery in 1964 through various trials and tribulations for the next 15 years or so. In the first half, the stage backdrop is covered in amplifiers — it is like being in a vast recording studio. Then comes their first visit to America and the back wall is covered in the Stars and Stripes.Ryan O’Donnell is exceptionally good in the central role of Ray Davies. Mark Newnham is suitably manic as Ray’s brother and bandmate Dave. Garmon Rhys plays shy bass guitarist Pete Quaife and Andrew Gallo plays drummer Mick Avery .
The music is clearly the strongest part of the production, not a surprise when there is such a brilliant back catalogue to choose from. However, it wasn’t just guitar heavy rock, there was some sweeter and subtler songs; an a capella version of Days had some beautiful harmonies, as did Too Much On My Mind, a touching duet between Ray and his wife Rosa. It was all backed up by a brilliant live band and some superb on-stage musical performances from the cast.
It’s easy to see why this swept the boards at the Oliviers, it’s not a typical fun and feel good show, there are dark parts and a sense of heavy realism but it’s that realism which makes the show what it is – a kind of triumph over adversity. In Sunderland until Saturday 8th it’s not just worth a trip to see the show it’s worth a repeat trip to see the show again because it truly is so good.