'If you’re not crying, you’re probably deaf,’ gets a big laugh from a packed house at the Sunderland Empire, and perfectly sums up Sunny Afternoon. This is a real feel-good musical that has audience members tapping their feet, laughing out loud and, during the last number, on their feet.
The story follows the beginnings of The Kinks; from their humble origins as a club backing band to the chart-topping success of the mid-Sixties. As you’d expect, given that it was penned by frontman Ray Davies, the show gives a great insight into the band’s rise to stardom, and doesn’t shy away from the problems that hounded them from the very early days.
Interspersed with the drama, many of the band’s biggest hits are included and performed by the cast with live backing. The musical numbers are some of the real highlights of the show: after a good opening, the production really bursts into life when the band perform You Really Got Me (their chart-topping, breakthrough single) on Top of the Pops. The volume this song is performed at is seriously loud. The kind of loud that you can feel reverberating through your body, reminding you just how much you love rock ‘n’ roll. It’s hard not to cheer when Mark Newnham as Dave Davies plays that intro riff.
Ryan O’Donnell portrays singer Ray’s fragile confidence with great care and rocks through the band’s numerous hits with aplomb. At times, it feels like you’re watching a really well-drilled Kinks tribute band, rather than a hit musical. The rest of the cast perform their roles well too, with Lisa Wright’s portrayal of Ray’s wife Rasa a particular highlight – her deadpan answers to Ray’s questions when they first meet are very funny.
Edward Hall’s direction ensures the play runs smoothly and that the songs never feel out of place. Despite the show moving quickly and the stage being very busy at times, the audience is never confused as to what’s going on or who’s who. A great achievement and one assisted by the excellent use of the set to help indicate when the band are in the UK and when they’re touring America.
The show ends with a great sing-along number, after rocking through the band’s most famous tunes, their rise to fame and subsequent struggles. The audience laughs, cries and sings along in all the right places, before leaving with a smile on their faces. You’ll be humming those riffs all the way home.
Sunny Afternoon runs at the Sunderland Empire from 4–8 October.
High Street West, Sunderland SR1 3EX
0844 871 3022 www.atgtickets.com