Review: Sunny Afternoon at New Theatre Oxford
"Socialists brought down by unions"
Sunny Afternoon opens on a classy dance and band set. As the drums kick in the classy 1950s morph into the 1960s, and we meet The Kinks (called the Ravens at that point) with the rock and roll ‘You Really Got Me’.
They’re a group of working class teenagers who step to the fore as, we’re told, ‘exclusive is out; inclusive is in’. The world is changing and the chandelier disappears from the ceiling as it’s the turn of pop to be the sound of the people.
The stage is almost littered with guitars and Ray Davies (the lead; played brilliantly by Ryan O’Donnell), his younger brother Dave (lead guitar and vocals), drummer Mick Avory and bass guitar Pete Quaife are clearly oozing musical talent as well as solid working class sentiments. It’s time to meet the managers, and there are several of them, layer after layer of middle men, each of which will get their cut. They are described in ‘A well-respected man’, a satirical assessment of the upper classes.
Ray Davies is the song-writer, a thinker and the narrator of the songs: the words come to him as thought processes which just flow into lyrics – and they’re brilliant songs with a bitter-sweet flavour that went against the general cheer of the music of the swinging sixties.
The music, with its melancholic undertones, is fantastic, from ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ to sadder slower songs as Ray meets Rasa and falls into becoming a family man perhaps too soon. He is separated from her in America where their tour falls into difficulties because of the American unions; suspicions about foreigners and communism and their own attitudes prevent them making it to the big league, they’re ‘the only socialists brought down by unions.’
The story-line isn’t complicated: a band become famous and their struggles both with the world at large and between themselves threaten to tear them apart. It is both a true representation of the story of The Kinks, who famously did fight on stage in 1965, and a vehicle to present their best songs. It is also something more: there’s an intelligence and a humour throughout which adds another dimension.
Interestingly this production, the story of a 1960s band with great tracks and moments of pathos, which has been running as a stage show since 2014 could today be a contemporary commentary on some of the political changes in the world as Trump sets out on four years of presidency, with concerns about communism, mentions of xenophobia and other issues that are surfacing in today’s news.
You can’t help but tap your feet and move to the beat in this show. There’s also an unexpected striking acapella segment in the second half which was met with rapturous applause, and a celebration of the 1966 World Cup win that had the audience joyously on their feet as if they were at the match itself.
In the depths of a gloomy winter, we all crave a Sunny Afternoon, and this will be one to remember.
Sunny Afternoon is at New Theatre Oxford until Saturday 4th February.
Images © Kevin Cummins
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