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.