From 5 October 2015, cast includes Danny Horn, Oliver Hoare, Tom Whitelock and Damien Walsh as The Kinks.
The Kinks were a bunch of delightfully scrappy north London outsiders, and at a push you might say the same about this musical based on their songs, which transfers to the Harold Pinter from the wilds of, er, Hampstead Theatre.
‘Sunny Afternoon’ doesn’t feel like a big West End show, but that’s a compliment to Ed Hall’s spunky production and its air of scrubbed-up anarchy. Its cast may only be modest in size, but by the end they all feel like old friends, wandering freely into the audience in a theatre made more intimate via cabaret seating and a runway projecting deep into the stalls. It sidesteps several musical clichés: none of the leads dance, and indeed the four actors playing the band could probably have everybody else currently on London’s stages in a fight. Only the most faint-hearted of souls will find anything to offend them – I don’t think there’s even any swearing – but the frequent cacophony of live instruments mark this as a breed apart.
Written in collaboration with Ray Davies, Joe Penhall’s biographical book focuses on the life of the chief Kink. It teeters towards hagiography, but John Dagleish puts in the show’s most compelling performance as Ray. A troubled, sensitive soul who finds himself both massively famous and married with a child by the age of 20, he has an almighty freakout while brother and guitarist Dave (George Maguire) enjoys it all rather too much.
It is great fun. Miriam Buether’s Swinging Sixities designs are wonderful and the hit-packed last 20 minutes utterly joyous: it’s great that the bulk of the songs are blasted out in the bone-rattling style of a gig rather than being prettified for the theatre.
Nonetheless, for all its stylish insouciance, I felt ‘Sunny Afternoon’ fell short on ambition. The Kinks’ story was a grand soap opera that stretched on for 30 years and would have been ripe for a ‘Jersey Boys’-style epic. Instead Penhall’s book is a simplistic, sentimental summary of their first two years that ends on a rather contrived high. There are still genuflections to musical theatre convention, with some of Davies’s best tunes handed to minor characters to belt out in jokey song-and-dance routines. And it’s slightly bloated – thirty-odd tunes feels a bit much.
‘Sunny Afternoon’ is a superior jukebox musical that deserves to be a hit. But behind its rough ’n’ ready façade, there’s a sense of calculation that The Kinks themselves never demonstrated.