Review - Sunny Afternoon

Sunny Afternoon, the much talked about Olivier Award winning musical, had naturally been on my radar for a long time. I'm not a huge fan of The Kinks and I'm not a huge fan of jukebox musicals, but I am a huge fan of British writing, as so while it wasn't at the top of my to-see list, Sunny Afternoon was a show that I was eager to check out. So when the lovely Rebecca at Official Theatre offered a couple of bloggers the opportunity to see and review the show, I jumped at the chance. 
Having rendezvoused outside the Harold Pinter Theatre with the other theater bloggers who were also seeing the show, I hurried into the theatre to take my seat. What immediately struck me as I sat down was that the actors were already onstage, wandering around, warming up their instruments. It immediately set the tone of the piece and gave the impression that we were being aloud a glimpse backstage, a theme which continued as the show began. I was also struck by the bright, clashy sets and costumes (VERY 1960s), and the stage itself which was clad from floor to ceiling in speakers, and extended in walkway form a couple of rows into the stalls. This allowed for a rather more immersive West End theatre experience than expected.

From the moment the show begins, it pulls you into The Kinks' world (the Kinks being Ray, his brother Dave and their friends Mick and Pete), beginning with their days as an unsigned band supporting a crooner, and following them as their popularity begins to gain momentum until finally they hit the dizzying heights of fame...only to be knocked back down again. Unfortunately the problem I had with Sunny Afternoon is that I was never engrossed in the show to begin with, and so as the band continued their journey, I felt disconnected, and found that I didn't really care what happened to them. This wasn't helped by the fact that a lot of the exposition dialogue was jumbled and yelled over (I found the same way about The Commitments too). In fact, I realized only at the very end of the show that I only knew the names of about 4 characters. Everyone else (even 2 members of The Kinks themselves) appeared to muddle on and off the stage randomly. This wasn't helped by the fact that many of the actors, even those who played quite big supporting roles, multiroled as different characters at one point or another. 

I realise that this review sounds quite damning at the moment, but I wasn't left completely cold. The first time Dave plays the 'You Really Got Me' powerchord and the auditorium rocks I couldn't help but smile. Similarly, when The Kinks finally play the title song and red, white and blue confetti falls from the ceiling, you could almost sense the cheer radiating from the audiences. 

However, I found the majority of the show to be rather long winded and at points just a bit dull. The first act felt rushed while the second act dragged. The title song 'Sunny Afternoon' appeared at around the hour mark in the second act, and felt like a natural point to end the show at, however, when the confetti had fallen and the audience had cheered (it seemed like a large portion of us thought that it was the end) the show continued to roll along for another half an hour (timings are of course estimated, I wasn't sitting in the theatre checking my watch every two minutes!) 

As far as the performances are concerned, I can't fault any of the actors! John Dagleish had a wonderful stage presence as Ray Davies (although I personally found the character rather one dimensional) and George Maguire looked like he was having the time of his life as Ray's younger brother Dave, the womanizing, cross dressing, chandelier-swinging party animal of the group. I can now totally see why he was awarded the Olivier for best supporting actor in a musical! 

I am still rather puzzled by Sunny Afternoon's Best New Musical win, though. Firstly, I feel like as the music was already established, receiving an award which is in part awarded based upon the quality of the soundtrack seem odd. Secondly, for me the book just didn't do anything spectacular. I thought the pacing seemed odd, and I couldn't understand if some of the lines were a nod and a wink of self awareness or genuine cheese. (At one point, during a particularly emotional scene between Ray and his wife Rasa, she says something along the lines of "stop singing so we can talk about this!"...a few awkward chuckles echoed through the theatre. It was jarring to say the least.).

All in all, I found Sunny Afternoon fun. A fairly easy going night out with a couple of great tunes to keep you company. But after all of the hype surrounding it, I went in expecting more, and left feeling a little bit disappointed. I do however realise that I appear to be part of a minority, as not only has Sunny Afternoon garnered huge critical acclaim, it has also gained a large following, and I know many theatre bloggers who love it unconditionally. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, perhaps I'm just not a big enough The Kinks fan to truly appreciate this, what I do know is that Sunny Afternoon is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and this fact makes A  LOT of people very happy!

Verdict - 2 1/2 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Thanks again to Rebecca at Official Theatre, for providing me with a ticket. I am so grateful that I got to experience this show, even if I didn't find it as affecting as other did! x