REVIEW: Sunny Afternoon, Mayflower Theatre

By Hilary Porter

IT first wowed London audiences two years ago and received four major awards at last year's Olivier Awards so my expectations were high.

But with a soundtrack that includes "You Really Got Me", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", "All Day and All of the Night", "Waterloo Sunset" , "Lola" and "Sunny Afternoon" I did wonder if this might be just another feel-good jukebox musical performed by a fine tribute band.

To suggest such a thing seems churlish, however, as Sunny Afternoon presents a very personal and authentic insight into the warts and all story behind The Kinks with the story, music and lyrics written by former frontman Ray Davies himself.

The show recounts the struggles to make the band a success as four " raw, scruffy, working class oiks" from Muswell Hill, including brothers Ray and Dave Davies, explode on to the music scene in 1964 with 'You really Got Me' .

But their journey is a turbulent one with arguments and even physical fights between band members and excruciating pressure from music executives all expecting their share of the profits.

The demands on the boys to endlessly tour and produce music whilst leaving family behind takes its toll as they are ripped off and exploited and we realise they were only in their teens and early twenties. They hit a particular low as the notorious fight on stage at their 1965 Cardiff concert and their touring ban in the United States are re-enacted.

"It's like working in a factory but without the job security," laments Davies.

But for the most part the music keeps the mood upbeat and in my seat in the stalls beside a catwalk that jutted out into the audience I was swept along by the excitement of the all-round stunning performances.

Often songs are slipped effortlessly into the narrative and others are performed in mini recreations of concerts.

Two surprising tracks written by Davies but recorded by other artists such as "I Go to Sleep" and "Stop Your Sobbing", both hits for The Pretenders whose singer Chrissie Hynde was a partner of Davies, capture the darker days.

The hard-working cast are super-talented working as both as actors and musicians, constantly changing musical instruments whilst singing and performing tight choreography.

Ray Davies is played by the extraordinarily believable Ryan O'Donnell whose delightful vocals and exuberance on stage contrasts with his sensitivity and frailty at home as he becomes disillusioned and depressed.

Providing the comic relief is his brother Dave ( Mark Newnham) who embraces the rock star persona with his wild partying, literally swinging from the chandeliers.

And Lisa Wright as Ray's wife Rasa captures the sadness of lost family life as the demands of touring push their relationship to the limit.

With a set that consists of all round floor to ceiling musical speakers the message is loud and clear that The Kinks made a huge impression on music history .

And the audience that was up on its feet dancing and singing last night would certainly agree with that!