Tuesday night saw the great & the good descend on the Harold Pinter Theatre for Sunny Afternoon‘s new cast media night. The multi-award winning show has now been resident in the West End for over a year, with a brand new cast taking their first steps just over two weeks ago on 5 October. I was lucky enough to be granted a ticket (thanks to The Corner Shop) for this special occasion – excitingly the first time I’d ever attended such an event!
In case you’re unfamiliar with the show (or, indeed, several of my previous blog posts), Sunny Afternoon charts the origins of The Kinks; oft-overlooked, but now getting the recognition they deserve, and gaining a wealth of new fans along the way. The show itself is an effortless blend of music, comedy & drama, with a unique spirit that makes it stand out from other West End shows. A true individual, much like Ray Davies himself.
The 2015-16 principal cast includes three existing members: Jason Baughan (continuing as Eddie Kassner), Alice Cardy (switching from Joyce to Peggy) & Stephen Pallister (promoted from understudy to full-time Mr Davies/Klein). All have combined well with the new cast members, creating a real sense of group unity. There are no ‘big names’ in the company, but this only serves to make the show the star – something that I am a firm believer in.
The ensemble is solid, providing good support for the central characters. In particular I’d like to single out Gillian Kirkpatrick as a strong, proud Mrs Davies, Niamh Bracken as a saucy, fun diner girl, and Jay Marsh – he has a variety of personae & utilises a range of good accents, but probably my favourite of them is his London tailor. Gabriel Vick is suave as Wace, with a lovely singing voice – especially in the a cappella ‘Days’.
There was, sadly, one performance that I didn’t enjoy. Grenville (Charlie Tighe) comes across more as a caricature than a person; it’s just a bit over the top. The Wace/Collins double act is unbalanced, and it doesn’t really work for me.
The band, when playing together, do sound very much like The Kinks. I don’t believe it’s necessary essential in a show like this (let’s face it, the script isn’t cold, hard fact), but it obviously does no harm whatsoever. They have definitely gelled well together as a unit.
Tom Whitelock is a quiet, reserved Pete – and he is undeniably a highly skilled bass player. Damien Walsh is sometimes deadpan, sometimes boisterous as Mick; he’s a powerful drummer indeed, although my favourite of his drum tracks is probably the more subtle ‘Waterloo Sunset’. Hopefully, over time, the rhythm section will step out of the background a little more – the show is, after all, about The Kinks and not just the Davies brothers. In shows such as this, there’s always the danger that the more famous character will overshadow the lesser known (but equally important) ones. It is early in the run, so I’m sure we’ll see these characters go from strength to strength.
Oliver Hoare is a pocket of energy – he certainly uses these reserves to great effect in the role of Dave Davies! His portrayal is arrogant & hedonistic, acting as a real antagonist towards his older brother. Yet he shows glimpses of vulnerability in the latter stages, especially in the lead-up to the emotional ‘A Long Way From Home’. He is also a fantastic guitar player, and does his utmost to show this off in the band numbers.
Sunny Afternoon has landed on its feet with the casting of Danny Horn – his performance as an ethereal Ray is captivating. He channels the character completely. He’s in people-watcher mode from the very beginning; you can really see his thoughts racing from one glimpse at his persistent stare. My favourite Ray moments were ‘Sitting In My Hotel’ & the speech building up to ‘Waterloo Sunset’ – both were so beautifully done they brought tears to my eyes. It was also good to see him as Ray the showman, as you can tell he’s definitely having an absolute blast on that stage! He really has made a very assured West End debut.
My verdict? A feel-good triumph from a hugely promising new cast – it will keep you coming back for more!
Sunny Afternoon runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre, currently booking until 16 April 2016.