Bristol Hippodrome

Sunny Afternoon

March 2017

Ray of sunshine


Born into a large boisterous inner city family the boy with a pronounced stutter found his voice using song lyrics as his language for social commentary.

The musical Sunny Afternoon charts the rise to stardom of secondary modern educated Ray Davies and his band The Kinks.

Music fans were reminded of his song writing genius on Tuesday night at the Bristol Hippodrome with the opening chords of You Really Got Me and closing with the more reflective Lola were beguiled with both love songs and social satire from the Muswell Hill wordsmith.

The tensions within the band were highlighted as was the dynamic between four working class lads and their posh managers and publisher each determined to get their 10 per cent.

A simple set of wall to ceiling speakers the show opens with the group as backing band riff-raff who get signed up by the ‘suits’.

Against the back-drop of a Britain caught mid-swing between the conservative 50s and riotous 60s, this production explores the euphoric highs and agonising lows of one of Britain’s most iconic bands and the irresistible music that influenced generations, says the blurb and that is the best description of this show.

The 60s costumes of trendy denim, minis skirts, mod jackets and white boots coupled with disco dance moves gave the show authenticity but it was the brilliance of the cast which makes this a must-see show.

The dedicated followers of fashion indulge in gimmicks, schoolgirl groupies and cross-dressing to get their hedonistic highs but it is with some irony that their US tour is most remembered by its McCarthyism witch-hunt with political and mobster undertones and Ray’s homesickness resulting in depression.

Younger brother Dave – looking like Kevin the teenaged anti-hero created by comedian Harry Enfield – is dubbed by Ray as ‘Don Juan with plectrums’ when referring to his libertine love life.

A slightly manic character who with his pink frocks he was perhaps one of the first to introduce androgynous chic to pop culture.

There are lots of contemporary references from England's World Cup win to John and Yoko's 'bed-in' in a musical which has happy and poignant moments.

The wedding of Ray and Rasa, played by Lisa Wright, his pregnant first (of three) wife(s), takes place after she gets expelled from her Catholic convent school - her waddle across stage in national dress escorted by her furious Lithuanian father is hilarious.

The story ends before we get to his acrimonious relationship Chrissie Hynde of the The Pretenders which added another child to a total tally of five daughters. 

The Acapella version of Days, the transatlantic telephone call with I Go To Sleep and Rasa’s solo were the high spots for me.

Despite his haphazard behaviour, it was Dave who experimented and created a distorted power chord sound on the group's third single, You Really Got Me – ‘girl, you really got me goin’ is now playing in my head. 

Written by Ray it went to number one in the UK charts and preceded a string of hits. 
The unbrotherly love of the Davies brothers follows a infamous pattern from Mark and David Knopfler, Dire Straits to Liam and Noel Gallagher, of Oasis, that dates back to the biblical Cain and Abel.

Title song Sunny Afternoon is among the hits which feature in the show along with Lola, Waterloo Sunset and the aforementioned You Really Got Me.

Slightly annoying point was it took ages to hear the whole song as Ray gave us little bursts in the build up to a full rendition.

Looking back, it was on April 25, 1967, I saw The Who play High Wycombe Town Hall – I lost my hearing for three days and was so frightened afterwards thinking the deafness was permanent.

It reminded me listening to the chatter in the Piano Bar before curtain up from those not of my generation remarking they didn’t know all the songs and for them Lola is more likely to be associated with the Charlie and Lola the animated children’s television series.

During those lovely years between 1964-67 I went to hear The Yardbirds, Unit 4 Plus 2, and my favourite Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band.

The Move and Moody Blues were also in my diary but did I get there, can’t remember.
I thought I had seen The Kinks and The Troggs too but can’t find a Wycombe booking for either of these bands although some played Beaconsfield Youth Club and The Marquee in Soho – okay I didn’t go inside The Marquee but stood outside on a London day out and I know that doesn’t count.

As I approach my dotage the memory fades yet I remember all the words to Wild Thing and Sunny Afternoon but before going to see the theatre this week I did wonder if I wanted to relive the 1960s now in my 60s?

I had already seen shows at the Bristol Hippodrome about The Beatles, T-Rex and one loosely based on a bloke called Elvis so I had just about had my fill of nostalgia.
But it is my husband who was/is a fan of The Kinks so we went along with on my part low expectations.

The musical is based on a book by Joe Penhall with lyrics and music by band frontman Sir Ray himself.

The award-winning musical which premiered in 2014 plays Bristol until Saturday and stars Ryan O’Donnell as Ray Davies, with Mark Newnham as Dave Davies, Garmon Rhys as bassist Pete Quaife and Andrew Gallo as drummer Mick Avory. 

Great singing, great acting, great musicians, great company camaraderie – catch it while you can.

​For tickets click HERE.

Carol Deacon

PHOTOS: Kevin Cummins