Review from the Original production at The Hampstead Theatre
Jukebox musicals -- constructed out of back pop catalogues -- continue to be all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic. As the show that helped open the floodgates Mamma Mia! advertises, "You already know you're gonna love it!" Audiences already have an emotional connection to the show thanks to their love of the material.
But Sunny Afternoon -- which tells the story of the early career of 60s British pop band The Kinks through the hit songs lead singer Ray Davies wrote for the group - forges other rich emotional connections. Like Jersey Boys, the long-running Broadway show about another 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.
The storytelling may not be as slick and polished as it is in Jersey Boys, but there's a pay-off in the engagement we feel with the characters, and their truthfully conflicted interactions both with each other and the wider world in which they are variously challenged by unscrupulous managers and US entertainment unions. Everyone wants 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.
The show also resonates as pure history, with Britain's football World Cup victory in 1966 providing a particularly euphoric moment here that I won't spoil by revealing.
Yet ultimately, of course, it always comes back to the songs -- and there are some great ones here, including 'You Really Got Me', 'Dedicated Followers of Fashion', 'Waterloo Sunset' and the song that provides the title to this show, 'Sunny Afternoon'.
And a quite wonderful company of 15 actor-musicians, supplemented by an onstage guitarist, give them thrilling expression. There isn't a weak link anywhere, but there's particularly potent and exhilarating work from John Dagleish as Ray and George Maguire as his sibling Dave, and terrific support from Ned Derrington as guitarist Pete and Adam Sopp as drummer Mick. Philip Bird and Helen Hobson play Ray and Dave's parents, and Dominic Tighe and Tam Williams are the band's managers, amongst other roles they all play.
Edward Hall's production has a spirit of improvisation as well as innovation. As the action spills into the auditorium, with Miriam Buether -- who also designed his production of Chariots of Fire here to do the same thing -- we are totally immersed into the world of the 60s.
This sure-fire hit is definitely destined for a further life.
"It is an irresistibly enjoyable and touching night, and anyone who loves pop music at its greatest would be mad to miss it."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"I unexpectedly found myself thinking how well these songs – so full of narrative and character and pain – might have been successfully used in a more traditional jukebox musical."
Lynn Gardner for The Guardian
"Sunny Afternoon illustrates the brilliance of The Kinks and the incisive songwriting of Davies, and it’s surely destined for the West End."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard