When Sunny Afternoon first opened at Hampstead Theatre in May this year, I wrote here that "this sure-fire hit is definitely destined for a further life." And I'm delighted to be proved correct, as it happily (and occasionally very noisily) transfers to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre. The Kinks may not exactly have been the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but the songs that Ray Davies, their frontman and songwriter, wrote for them are an indelible part of pop history, and classics like 'Waterloo Sunset', 'Lola' and 'You Really Got Me' will live on forever.
"Will they still be playing it in 30 years time?", asks Davies of his song Sunny Afternoon in this show; nearly 50 years later, not only are they still playing it but it is the title song to this musical that has been beautifully constructed out of his back catalogue. Like Jersey Boys, the long-running Broadway show about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons 60s band from the US, it charts the back story to the early rise to fame of the group, by way of Muswell Hill (where Ray and his brother Dave, who was also in the band, were brought up) rather than New Jersey.
Playwright Joe Penhall, who has written the book to the musical, is good on balancing both the internal and external pressures they variously face, as the band fall out both with each other and the various managers and unions that want a slice of them. On tour in America, where they end up blacklisted for not playing the game, Ray speaks feelingly of his utter homesickness as he is separated from his wife and child back home.
It is exhilaratingly staged by Edward Hall with apt period choreography by Adam Cooper that keeps it moving throughout. But it is also a moving story in other ways, both for the memories it evokes but also the difficult relationships it portrays.
A large cast who often double as their own musicians bring it to magnificent life, led by John Dagleish as Ray and George Maguire as his sibling Dave, Ned Derrington as guitarist Pete and Adam Sopp as drummer Mick.
"Edward Hall’s joyous production neatly allows the songs to grow out of the story and the cast is first-rate...At close to three hours, the show is on the long side but it offers a heady celebration of a quintessentially English talent."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Alongside some interesting ideological clashes between socialism and trade unionism, Sunny Afternoon is a hymn to English musical individualism and artistic perseverance – all with the miniskirts and freshness of 1960s London. I predict 21st century-sized box office returns."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"For all the energy and skill bubbling away, Edward Hall’s confident production occasionally lacks forward momentum. ‘There’s no handbook for what you’re trying to do’, says Ray’s Dad to the boys, but it remains unclear precisely what this might be, what anger or passion fuels them."
Fiona Mountford for the Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press