REVIEW: Sunny Afternoon

HAMPSTEAD THEATRE 2/5/14

RAY Davies, perhaps this city’s greatest of musical storytellers, sat in the back seats of the Hampstead Theatre somewhere at last night’s press gala for the new Kinks musical, Sunny Afternoon.

It would, after all, have been a bit strange if he had been in the front row for the euphoric sing-song conclusion, clapping and slapping along to his own hits. Especially so for a man who has marinated himself in melancholy for so long and who has seemed to have grown more and more reserved, almost shy, as time has past.

I like the idea that he might’ve turned down a knighthood at some stage. Biased towards north London of course, he is surely just deserving as special recognition as Sir Macca.

From wherever he was positioned in this beautiful theatre, Ray must have watched proudly at another reminder of just how supreme his band really was. Needless to say, this is such fantastic music, mixing sexy rock n roll with bluesy ragtime, and lacing it all with lyrics as clever as Cole Porter’s.

Here, the cool person’s Beatles came to life on stage, albeit in the process making everyone dream of a time machine capable of quantum leaping us back to a prime, pulsating Kinks gig from the 1960s.

Rather than do the Ben Elton thing of taking a musical act’s back catalogue and crowbarring the songs into a pantomime story, Sunny Afternoon smartly takes the Jersey Boys route of telling the tale of how the band was formed.

This allows for some touching references to the way north London has been warped over time from a period when Muswell Hill was an affordable place to live and houses didn’t cost half a million.

You’d need to be a well respected man to buy a place on Fortis Green these days. The writing also teases us with our retrospective knowledge. When Ray is depressed and down, he is told you wouldn’t find John Lennon sitting around all day in bed with his wife.

John Dagleish is astutely cast as the dreamer of a frontman, although one minor distraction is that he looks in the face far more like a young Paul McCartney. But he rattles out Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and You Really Got Me and the rest like a star.

He is ably assisted by a cleverly assembled cast, most notably George Maguire as Ray’s brother Dave (the Rave), with whom he famously had Gallaghery, Milibandesque brotherly falling outs.

The show is long but doesn’t drag – watch out particularly for a winning World Cup set-piece as the timeless song Sunny Afternoon pounds through the theatre.

Brilliant on this stage, you would not bet against it one day being re-created at a West End theatre too. While some big shows in theatreland have failed recently, this one, with the right wind, might one day be a stayer.

Despite its length, it doesn’t reach the craft of the late 1960s Kinks music and the poetry of the Village Green Preservation Society album, nor the 1980s comeback hit Come Dancing, with which Ray built his own stage show around a few years back.

That is not a grumble, just itself a measure of how vast The Kinks’ contribution really was, too big for one show.

And as the cast bring Waterloo Sunset together, layer by layer, bass then drums the Ray, you are at once lost in a moment of perfection. This really is a winner.

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