The show must go on: part 2

I wrote a few months ago about understudies and used Sunny Afternoon as a bit of a case study. Since April, the number & identity of the Sunny understudies has changed considerably – so I though it was about time I wrote about them too!

Adam Sopp, Ned Derrington, John Dagleish, Lillie Flynn and George Maguire in Sunny Afternoon.  Photograph by Kevin Cummins.
Adam Sopp, Ned Derrington, John Dagleish, Lillie Flynn and George Maguire in Sunny Afternoon.
Photograph by Kevin Cummins

Nick Sayce has been with the show since it arrived on the West End last year, and has definitely had one of the more challenging tasks on his hands: he started as understudy Mick/Wace/Collins, but has since added the role of Ray to that list. I saw him as Mick on the odd occasion prior to my last post, when Adam was off with injuries, but until recently he’s not had a lot of a chance to spend time onstage regularly.

His Mick is down-to-earth & uncomplicated, making his outburst in Cardiff all the more shocking. He has fantastic comic delivery – in particular, “We feel poncey. Poncified? Like ponces?” In my opinion, Mick has some of the funniest lines in the show so this is vitally important! He’s no slouch on the drums either, producing a mesmerising drum solo (my favourite part, so no pressure!) and providing a real urgency to the beat of ‘The Moneygoround’. Mick is my favourite character in the show, so it’s good to know he’s in such secure hands!

Being on standby for both Wace & Collins (a fabulous double act) must be both confusing & difficult. There is so much that they do in the background (moving mic stands & such), plus so much of their dialogue is very quick & alternating; it must be tempting to just combine the two into one big speech at times! Nick has had a few opportunities to develop these characters (Grenville, especially) and you can really see this each time. You can also tell he has a great amount of fun with his dancing during ‘I Gotta Move’! That’s one of my favourite Wace & Collins moment, and I never feel let down.

He probably thought he’d never get the chance to play Ray, but a couple of weeks ago this actually happened! Having seen his previous incarnations I was intrigued to see how he’d play it; I was also curious about his singing, as I didn’t know what his range was like. It’s fair to say I was blown away! e really captured the essence of Ray’s vulnerability – I was caught off-guard in the scene following ‘You Really Got Me’ and shed a few tears then for the first time. And he can definitely belt the songs out when he needs to! ‘Sitting In My Hotel’ & ‘A Long Way From Home’ were real highlights of the two performances of his that I caught. Yet again proof of this company’s great strength in depth.

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Like Nick, Stephen Pallister has been a member of the Sunny cast since October. He also has a few roles to play with (Page, Kassner, Mr Davies/Klein & Piven) and I’ve been lucky enough to see him in all of these roles, bar Piven, so far.

What makes it more difficult for Stephen is that all of the actors he’s covering play multiple parts in the show (speaking or otherwise), so it must take a considerable amount of focus to be able to even competently portray these roles, let alone do them as brilliantly as he does! And he even manages to put his own spin on each character. It must be very tempting to just do things in exactly the same way, rather than actually thinking about it and interpreting things differently where appropriate.

Of all his guises, I think my favourite is Mr Davies. He plays him with such simplicity he is utterly believable – and he works brilliantly with Liz as Mrs Davies; their partnership is remarkable.

Lia Given was the first of the newbie understudies that I saw onstage, in the week following the show’s Oliviers success.

And, of course, the casting director had come up trumps again! Lia has perhaps the unenviable job of understudying all of the lovely Sunny ladies except Lillie & Liz – down as understudy Peggy/Gwen/Joyce & assistant dance captain in the new programme.

I’ve so far seen her covering Amy & Carly. I absolutely loved her comic timing interrupting the wedding – and she did an absolutely outstanding job as the waitress in ‘Maximum Consumption’. I look forward to finally seeing her as Peggy at some point – if Em ever has any rest! And I’m now hoping & wondering whether she’ll be taking over as Joyce when Amy leaves for Kinky Boots – we shall see…

Silas Wyatt-Burke also has a few roles up his sleeve, but thus far I’ve only seen him as Wace. He is utterly brilliant!

He is very fresh-faced, so to begin with you do wonder how believable he can be as the manager figure – but then you do have to remember that, in reality, Wace was only around 21 when he first became involved with the soon-to-be Kinks. Plus as soon as Silas began Wace’s pre-song routine I was immediately drawn in by his quirky style of humour! It’s astounding that he seems to have developed such a strong relationship with Tam already; I first saw him only a couple of shows into his first run and almost couldn’t believe how settled he seemed. He has a strong voice, meaning the lead part in ‘Days’ is very well taken care of.

Of all his other covers (Pete/Mick/Collins), I’d love to see him as Pete. Partly because I’ve never seen a different Pete (Ned has battled through heroically!) but also because I feel he would really bring the humour across wonderfully. Who knows, it may happen one day?

Ryan O’Donnell has joined as understudy Ray and Dave. he’s previously worked with both George & Lillie, so that was a good sign – they gave me great confidence in him before his debut as Ray.

So I ended up seeing Ryan on his very first night (it seemed only right that one of the Afternooners should be there in support). Yes, there were a few little hiccups (Ray’s only off the stage for about 5 minutes, there’s so much to think about) but my immediate reactions were that I loved his voice and that you could definitely see the character there. I then saw him in a midweek double a couple of days later and was blown away by how much more confident he seemed after just one more show.

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But what’s most astonishing is that a week or so ago, he was about to go onstage as Dave (the notices were up in the foyer) when all of a sudden plans had to change and he went on as Ray! The response from the first timers in the audience was overwhelmingly positive. With that little preparation time it’s amazing the show went ahead at all, but go on it did. It’s nights like that which make me very proud of the show & its stars. They are all so incredibly supportive, in particular Adam & Ned as fellow bandmates – it must be really heartening to know that they are there to keep things going if needed.

So, I still have Ryan’s Dave to look forward to at some stage! I’m assured by those who know that it is fantastic, so definitely one to look out for…

Kay Milbourne has taken over from Verity Quade as understudy Mrs Davies/Marsha. I finally got to see her (a few times, actually!) during half term week – and it was definitely worth the wait. Firstly, you’d never believe she’s actually a Geordie! I know it’s her job, but some actors are better at accents than others after all. As with Ryan, I saw her on her first night of this run (I missed her very first show, sadly) and was struck by how ‘on it’ she was – not a foot wrong and she formed a great pairing with Philip as both Mrs Davies & Marsha.

Her Mrs Davies is perhaps a bit more sympathetic to Ray’s plight, and her Marsha is no less sassy – always a good sign! Can’t wait to catch her next performance!

Robbie White has had to learn the parts of all four Kinks – now there’s a task & a half!

To date I’ve seen him stepping up to the plate with an extended run as Dave. It’s wonderful to see how assured he appears in the role; he has brought his own take on Dave to the table. Crazy & super-energetic were my initial reactions, I have to say! Luckily Robbie seems to agree on that score, having spoken to him briefly after some of his shows.

I initially saw him while Ryan was on as Ray, but this week got to see him opposite John too. It’s interesting to see how a performance can alter depending on who you’re onstage with; the dynamics perhaps shift, but that doesn’t make the performance any less compelling.

I believe Robbie is the first port of call to cover Pete, so I should be guaranteed to see that at some point – he’s such a different character to Dave, I’m curious to see how he goes about it. Possibly less likely to catch him as Ray or Mick, but it would be interesting for sure – and another permutation of Kinks to add to my list!

Vicki Manser & Lloyd Gorman are the final pair of understudies who have joined the company. Lloyd hasn’t had the chance to go on as yet (as Mr Davies/Klein, Kassner, Page or Piven), but Vicki has had a few shows – sadly I’ve missed them all! A combination of no money and other pre-made plans have worked against me. But one of these days…

So, as you can see, Sunny Afternoon is very secure!

Philip Bird, Dominic Tighe and Tam Williams in Sunny Afternoon.  Photography by Kevin Cummins
Philip Bird, Dominic Tighe and Tam Williams in Sunny Afternoon.
Photography by Kevin Cummins

West End Frame last year had an ‘Understudy of the Year’ award – I think this more than makes the case for one of the Sunny understudies to take that title. As John’s recent win made it two out of two for 2015 so far…

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