REVIEW: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Tom Whitelock, Danny Horn, Damien Walsh and Oliver Hoare in Sunny Afternoon. Photo: Kevin Cummins

Sunny Afternoon
Harold Pinter Theatre
20th October
4 Stars
Book Tickets

After sweeping the boards at the Olivier Awards, it’s no wonder that Sunny Afternoon has lived to see its first birthday.

The story of the rise, fall and second rise of The Kinks has been an audience favourite since it opened, however now that the inaugural cast have departed is it still worth a visit? The answer is very much yes; the new recruits are still fizzing with energy and have built on the anarchic spirit of the original production.

The storyline is strictly biographical but more interesting than most comparable biopics. 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.

Although the story isn’t massively substantial, there are some emotional moments, particularly towards the end when things really start to unravel for the frontman Ray Davies. There is also a neat political subtext, as their Tory managers have to face up to the fact that heartthrobs like The Kinks are starting to become the true aristocracy.

The play works hard to set the scene, referencing other cotemporary bands, although some of the jokes are a bit too knowing at times (of the ‘there’s a little band called The Who, you won’t have heard of them” ilk). The script is at its best when it is rife with tension; the turbulent end to the first half is gripping and matches the intensity of some of the high tempo rock and roll on display.

Speaking of the music, it is clearly the strongest part of the production, not a surprise when there is such a brilliant back catalogue to choose from. The music was often ‘layered’, starting with a simple riff, adding more and more elements in an improvised fashion until it reached a euphoric climax. It was a brilliant device, showing the simple genius of hair-raising numbers such as Sunny Afternoon and You Really Got Me.

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.

Danny Horn as Ray Davies in Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Danny Horn as Ray Davies. Photo: Kevin Cummins

I was initially unsure about Danny Horn as Ray; he is much less of a natural showman than the Olivier-winning John Dagleish, who he replaced. However, his singing voice and mannerisms seem to capture Davies a lot more effectively and he made a lot of the more tender songs his own.

Oliver Hoare is electric as the cross-dressing, thrill-seeking Dave Davies, which must be one of the most fun (if tiring) roles to play in the West End. Damien Walsh also deserves credit for his performance as Mick Avory, stealing the show with a remarkable and seemingly everlasting drum solo.

Megan Leigh Mason, in her West End debut, was a compelling Rasa, quickly morphing from naïve fan to jaded mother. Charlie Tighe and Gabriel Vick were also enjoyably pompous as the band’s hapless and yet inexplicably rich co-managers.

One recurring annoyance throughout the first half was the sound mix, with the heavy guitars drowning out most of the lyrics. It seemed to have been sorted after the interval, but it was also a problem during the original run – it seems a real shame to detract from some of the fine vocal performances. Miriam Beuther’s costumes capture the period brilliantly; all neon colours and flares, with some seriously sharp suits.

The Kinks frontman Ray Davies joined many famous faces at the Harold Pinter Theatre to celebrate the first birthday of his co-creation. Based on this showing, it’ll be around for some time to come.


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