Robert Tanitch reviews Sunny Afternoon at Hampstead, London NW1
Hampstead Theatre’s first musical, is a disguised concert performance of great hits by English rock musician Ray Davies and the quintessentially English Kinks, one of the most important and influential rock groups of the 1960’s. The song Sunny Afternoon was the biggest hit in the UK in 1966.
Davies’s literate lyrics are easy to listen to and well worth listening to. The songs, cool, melancholy and cynical, have an authentic London voice and are ironic commentaries of an era.
The Kinks was founded in 1964 and Sunny Afternoon is a sort of 50th year anniversary celebration. Joe Penhall’s book traces their rise to stardom and the volatile rifts between the two brothers and their mangers who try to rip them off. There are also Union troubles in America, which lead to their being banned for 4 years in the USA. Artistic integrity comes at a price. There is a mental and physical breakdown.
The performances are likeable. John Dagleish is a gentle, laid-back, sad-eyed, vulnerable Ray Davies. George Maguire is his younger brother, Dave, a wild card in drag, liable to swing on a chandelier and brandish an axe. Adam Sopp is Mick, the drummer and percussionist. Ned Derrington is Pete, the bass guitarist, who feels isolated.
The set is a huge recording studio with every wall space crammed with speakers. There is a catwalk straight through the centre stalls. Ed Hall’s efficient production is thoroughly enjoyable and its climax is geared to force the audience into a hand-clapping, standing ovation. Hall is clearly hoping for a West End transfer.