And the award goes to … here’s how Sunny Afternoon fared in the Olivier Awards – it picked up Mastercard Best New Musical; Best Actor in a Musical (John Dagleish); Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical (George Maguire); while the Autograph Sound Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music went to Ray Davies. Not a bad haul at all.
‘A BLAZING TRIUMPH’
‘AN IRRESISTIBLY ENJOYABLE AND TOUCHING SHOW’
So run some of the plaudits promoting ‘the hit new musical’ about The Kinks. I’d also heard positive reports from fans and thought it was about time I verified whether Sunny Afternoon was actually as good as I’d been told.
Chances are, you know more Kinks songs than you think you do. Which is what most of the audience seemed to be saying at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End as the show progressed.
And this rambunctiously feelgood musical, loosely based on the genesis and early success of the London group, is just what is needed to reinvigorate interest in one of the most underrated and under-appreciated bands around.
The badger had fallen out of love with The Kinks after the most scintillating and deeply fulfilling rock’n’rollercoaster of a honeymoon due to a brush with the dark side in the form of a Davies’ solicitor. This bruising encounter precipitated a hasty retreat to the sett for a prolonged spell of wound-licking. But this incredible show from Ray Davies tempted me back into the wild outdoors of the wider Kinkdom and was just what I needed to reignite my passion.
I couldn’t help but half envy those folk exclaiming ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was by the Kinks!’, a position I had found myself in four years previously, after seeing the duo of inspiring BBC4 documentaries on the two captivating and talented brothers. The uninitiated have so many more utterly brilliant songs to discover.
Written by Joe Penhall from Ray’s original story, the narrative fairly rollicks along and is crammed full of incident, both comic and tragic. Pivotal events feature, like the improvised replacement of the upper-crust singer at the debs’ balls after an unfortunate accident with a mike; the untimely death of fun-loving Davies sister Rene, who sadly succumbed to a heart condition on Ray’s 13th birthday after giving him his first guitar earlier that same day; the mutilation of the little green amp; the infamous Cardiff gig when Mick responded to intense provocation from Dave by assaulting him with a drum pedal, memorably cutting his head open and instigating a police manhunt; the battle to regain publishing rights; the fact that they became the only English band to get banned from the US (for three years at the height of their fame); and Ray’s rather romanticised relationship with Rasa.
The musical just touches on the infighting and power struggle ever so lightly, like a butterfly barely grazing a blossom. This is no time to air grievances and grind axes but instead to titillate spectators with a soupçon of the never-ending emotional mini-drama that was life in The Kinks.
If the dialogue is at times a tad sentimental and the events sometimes played for a cheap laugh, it generally works. And you just cannot fault the songs. They are amazing. And these versions, available on a CD, pretty damn worthwhile too.
Imaginatively staged, the autobiographical nature of much of the material means it effortlessly helps to progress and illustrate this necessarily simplified and distilled history of the band. Ray has skilfully divided the songs between cast members (a multitalented lot, they all sing, dance, play instruments, the beautiful sisters with their fantastic legs, even the policeman from Call the Midwife). So to the song selection.
Some of it is a subtle reminder from Ray, like the tiniest nudge with the very tip of his elbow or the subtlest conspiratorial blink of one eyelid, that ‘I wrote that too, in case you didn’t know’. As with I Go to Sleep, Stop Your Sobbing and Days, which charted for The Pretenders and Kirsty MacColl. We didn’t get David Watts though, memorably covered by The Jam; and inspired by one of the more notorious episodes in the band’s history, when Ray playfully offered to trade his inebriated younger brother to an army major in return for a country property.
As well as the hits like You Really Got Me, Dead End Street, Waterloo Sunset, Dedicated Follower, Well-respected Man, Sunny Afternoon and Lola, we are also treated to the less well-known but very welcome This Strange Effect, This Time Tomorrow, Sitting in My Hotel, A Long Way from Home, Too Much on My Mind and Money Go Round. Not to mention I’m Not Like Everybody Else, that anthem for all wilful misfits everywhere, featured in hit US show The Sopranos. It was originally the B side of no. 1 smash Sunny Afternoon back in 1966. I was surprised but pleased to hear the achingly beautiful Set Me Free as well, because I gather it had been unpopular with the band when released as an early single.
I would have also loved Get Back in the Line and Celluloid Heroes. Maybe they’ll feature in the next musical, along with Apeman and Autumn Almanac. 1980s ‘comeback’ hit Come Dancing had already cropped up in a previous, equally agreeable Ray Davies production at the Stratford East Theatre.
Characterisation-wise, it’s light on the pithy one-liners that Mick Avory was famous for – the down-to-earth drummer was adroit at summing things up, delivering humorous deliberations in his trademark deadpan manner. And Pete Quaife the peacekeeper comes across as a bit of a whiner, à la Pike from Dad’s Army. Ray affectionately lampoons himself as the archetypical tortured artist, incapable of expressing himself except through song. While he’s someone who’s seen to suffer for his art’s sake, Dave is pictured as just enjoying the spoils. Ray tries to please everyone whereas Dave focuses more determinedly on pleasing himself.
Maybe the Dave is a little one-dimensional, portrayed as an out-and-out hedonist but the actor George Maguire is young and good-looking with a great haircut and tons of energy that he throws into the part. He inhabits ‘Dave the Rave’ with impressive verve and vitality. Dave’s talking voice is hard to imitate; it has an odd soft, high quality to it that the actor’s unable to replicate, unsurprisingly.
John Dagleish, although blessed with a terrific singing voice – his vocals are impeccable – looks a little long in the tooth despite his relative youth (his face has a certain comfortably lived-in quality) to play the young Ray; and he’s not nearly as cute. But his portrayal has garnered him an Olivier nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, to which news he reacted: ‘It’s amazing. I’m massively, massively overwhelmed … I’m over the moon. It hasn’t sunk in yet.’
It would appear that The Kinks frontman didn’t make many demands about this stage version of himself, allowing the actor a free hand: ‘Ray took the pressure off quite early. He said he didn’t want an impersonation.’
One minor criticism I have is that Dagleish has a tendency to deliver his lines in a plaintive and nasal tone, making him sound distressingly like Rodney whingeing about one of Del Boy’s ill-fated get-rich-quick schemes in Only Fools and Horses. This may actually be a deliberate ploy to glean every ounce of humour out of the situation. But it’s not how I see Ray, even if he sees himself like that.
But these are nitpicking concerns really, when the production just bowls you over with its sheer zest for life and the tremendous gusto of the performers. It’s impossible not to get carried away.
If you even like just one Kinks song, I recommend you see Sunny Afternoon; and prepare to be blown away and converted to Kinks fandom. Your life may never be the same.
Transferring from a successful run at Hampstead Theatre in the first instance, the musical’s stint at the Harold Pinter has already been extended once and now it’s playing through till 24 October 2015. For more information and tickets see official website.
Of course enough stuff happened to The Kinks to fill a few more play scripts. The planned Julien Temple film You Really Got Me has yet to materialise,  though and may have drifted into the doldrums.
Whether it will ever come to pass, who knows? How can we expect the Davies boys to ever play nicely? The same with the much-hyped reunion – one minute it’s definitely on the cards; the next it’s a completely ridiculous notion and fans may as well howl at the moon.
Dave and Ray continue to dance around each other like two punch-drunk boxers squaring up for a fight neither really relishes. Somehow it’s in their contract; everything devolves into this eternally adversarial stalemate. Would we really have it any other way? The truly astonishing thing is that they lasted in a band together from 1963 to 1996 without committing fratricide.
I wonder if Sunny Afternoon represents the older sibling cutting his losses from the stalled film negotiations, determined to derive something positive from the experience in the meantime? In which case, it’s a happy by-product. Ever resourceful, Ray is adept at channelling his energies and efforts, diverting them from the original scheme into this worthy consolation prize of a side project.
As you get older, you yearn to tell your story, to present your version of events for posterity. Ray has at least told some of the tale here, in a wholeheartedly engaging and entertaining manner. The film, calling for collaboration, was always going to be a more unstable edifice, at the moment just a precarious barely standing façade, but it’s still listed on IMDB as in development. Fingers crossed.
Here are all other bashfulbadgersblogs on Kinks themes.
 Although there is a huge caucus of fantastically dedicated fans already in the know.
 The nocturnal rambler had ill-advisedly trespassed into too personal a realm, it would seem.
 A very touching episode that undoubtedly had a profound effect on the teenage Ray, but we didn’t need to be hit over the head with it quite so many times.
 Covered in previous blogs about the volatile relationships between band members.
 When in actuality Dave was quite a complicated young man, battling his own demons and regrets, while, and maybe partly by, capitalising on his fame, sex appeal and undeniable charisma.