Review – Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead Theatre

Saturday 26 April 2014

Sunny_Afternoon-342x800” It’s not about the words. It’s about the atmosphere” says Ray Davies (John Dagleish) towards the end of the new Kinks’ musical. How apt.

By the finale, that atmosphere was something akin to a party. A party of people jiggling around (but not like their dads at discos – for this audience was largely too elderly to have parents still alive), in the form of a stage-managed standing dancing ovation. Sunny Afternoon is looking to the West End. Not very rock and roll. It ends up wanting to be Mamma Mia.

And at this preview it frequently wasn’t about the words. What is it with musicals these days, why is the  sound balance given such an low priority? It’s not a concert, it’s a musical. Why not tone down the band and/or turn up the microphones? It’s not computer science is it? Well, it probably is actually. Phil wanted to find his inner Mamma Rose and bellow “Sing out, Ray!”

When they’re audible some of the Kinks’ songs sound as if they were almost written as show tunes and dovetail neatly into Joe Penhall’s book. The plot (based on an original story by Ray Davies), such as it is, tells of the The Kinks’ rise to stardom, sibling rifts between Ray and Dave (George Maguire, one of the original musical Billy Elliots, though strangely it’s not mentioned in his programme credits), management rip offs, attempts to stay in (let alone conquer) America and a touch of loudspeaker slashing and all whilst attempting to retain some artistic integrity along the way.

There’s nothing particularly gripping in the seen-it-all-before story and the book could do with more humour to produce more than the occasional half-hearted titter. But the back catalogue it’s constructed around is extraordinary and includes, a perkily staged (and largely audible) “Dead End Street”, “You Really Got Me”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (largely inaudible), a gorgeously presented “Days” (as clear as a bell) and “Sunny Afternoon” (largely inaudible), the song that represented the World Cup summer of 1966. And of course “Waterloo Sunset” presented here with a superb deconstruction of its introduction which when re-assembled sends shivers up the spine. Brilliant. Though of course once it got beyond the introduction the band drowned out the lyrics yet again.

The sixties costumes are wonderful and Mirian Buether’s impressive set of piled up loudspeakers wouldn’t look amiss in Tate Modern. A lime green catwalk juts out over the stalls, so fold your arms grumpily (as we did) if you don’t want to be pulled up to dance at the end.

If Edward Hall‘s production left Phil with one overriding impression it was that Ray Davies is something of a genius. Not too much to hope they’ll shorten the considerable running time, tweek the book and sorts out the sound issues. At this stage it seemed as if Sunny Afternoon had been overnighting at Jamaica Inn.



13 Responses to “Review – Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead Theatre”

  1. Annie Says:

    The reason Billy Elliot is not mentioned is simply because *this* George is not *that* George. Although you’re not the first to be confused, to be fair.

  2. Rae Coates Says:

    Hear Hear .At last ,and well done Whingers !
    Sound generally is appalling in West End Musicals . Where do they find these lyric deaf Sound operators ? The last time I heard ,what be regarded as First Rate sound was in Love Never Dies . Sods Law, just when you didn’t care about the lyrics ,you could hear every one of them !
    Mr Lloyd Weber should be sound designer for every West End Musical .
    It is an issue that needs to be resolved !

  3. Sal Says:

    But Phil, inquiring readers want to know, were there any birthday cakes onstage?

    A Kinks reunion? Never! Not since my brother Ray stamped on my 50th birthday cake

  4. Bill Orton Says:

    You must have been on a bad night for the sound, as I have attended two shows so far, sitting near the front and to the rear and found the sound balance superb on both shows!

  5. g Says:

    I was there on Saturday and most lyrics were audible – the sound balance did vary through the night – and after a few weeks of previews, the sound person should have the balance right by now. There were points where the band did overwhelm the actors’ voices. I think at one point a microphone was off as well. BTW, we loved the show. And even though the story is not really “new” – the Kinks’ songs more than make up for it. The reviewer misses that the show is neither Mamma Mia nor Jersey Boys – but somewhere in the middle where some of the Kinks songs have become character songs and some are just Kinks songs!


    I have been pressured into attending. Now having read this review I am somewhat dreading it. If it is true that they cannot even get the sound balance right then what’s the point of it? Of course Ray Davies is a genius – as is his much overlooked brother Dave, even so does one really have to pay £32 to confirm a universally acknowledged fact. The best hope is that it will be alright on the night.

  7. Ged Ladd Says:

    Daisy and I saw the show last Friday. We don’t normally do musicals but fancied this one as we like the Kinks music. We were certainly not disappointed. The story is indeed very slight but we expected little in that department. The weaving of the songs into the story worked well. The music/musicians were very good, IMHO. While accepting that some of the sound was pre-recorded, much of it clearly was not – the musical skills of the cast surprised and delighted us.

    On occasions, cast members swapped in – towards the end, for example, Ben Caplan had a go on the drums, made a pretty good fist of it and seemed to be loving every minute. We liked that. It was a bit like a cross between a play, a musical and a tribute band, but it was a strange mix that worked very well for us.

    Go see it and enjoy!

  8. Joan Bedlington Says:

    George was not ‘Billy Elliot ‘, check online. He was however nothing short of brilliant as Marc Bolan in Twentieth Century Boy. His commitment to capturing the very essence of the characters he portrays is commendable and he had done it again as Dave Davies. Don’t miss this fantastic show.

  9. Ged Ladd Says:

    Interesting that George Maguire did Marc Bolan prior to Dave Davies. He’s an excellent performer. But I kept thinking that “Dave Davies” was the spitting image of Lol Creme from 10CC!

    I discussed the various comments about sound balance with Daisy last night. She makes the very sensible point that this “musical” is actually trying to create the atmosphere of hearing the Kinks music live. In her view, the sound was good and authentic-sounding like a gig “back in the day”. Had it been balanced “West-End musical smooth”, it would not have sounded right for this show.

    We were back at the Hampstead last night, as we are seeing all four of the Simon Gray “Vale of Health” plays downstairs. Highly recommended and suggest you get tickets for at least one of the four while you can for the short transfer upstairs, due to massive over-subscription downstairs. One thing we both noticed and remarked upon this week was how well soundproofed that place must be – we didn’t hear a squeak from that loud upstairs show, neither before entering that small downstairs theatre nor (more importantly) while we were inside.

  10. […] to a British audience. For example, they reviewed Sunny Afternoon at the Hampstead Theatre  ( and were talking about the costumes and sets […]

  11. joed202 Says:

    Where are you guys??? The Whinger Withdrawal symptoms are now at a dangerous and potentially fatal level. I may have to start attending shows instead of just sneering at them from afar. Quelle damage.

  12. Glenmoranjie Says:

    Saw this in the Harold Pinter Theatre yesterday afternoon. I paid the £15 for a late release seat so was at the back of the Upper Circle, (or whatever they call it.) A good view of the stage but no view of the catwalk going into the stalls – very annoying. Overall I would recommend it though. Some swearing and some of the music is VERY LOUD! Not very full – they closed the balcony. I agree that the audience was pretty elderly.

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