Review: Sunny Afternoon tells story of The Kinks from variety to proto punks

The Ray Davies-approved script for Sunny Afternoon does a terrific job of evoking a London waiting to swing
Michael Conaghan

The Kinks: Sunny Afternoon, Grand Opera House, Belfast

ENGLISH pop stars of the 60s usually had one foot in variety, so a musical based on the songs of Ray Davies should come as no surprise. The Beatles' only serious songwriting rival penned many hummable tunes in the grand musical tradition, underpinned by a unique gift for social observation that was just as much Ken Loach as Noel Coward.

Write about what you know, goes the dictum. And the Ray Davies-approved script for Sunny Afternoon by Joe Penhall that we heard last night does a terrific job of evoking a London waiting to swing, with a certain Dave Davies riff about to provide the catalyst.

The first part of the show had all the buzz of a young band on the rise, as our Muswell Hill hillbillies went from cheesy backing band to proto punks in the space of a distorted guitar lick. Mark Newnham as Dave Davies proved an adept scene-stealer, attacking amps, guitars and American union reps with equal relish. Much of the early action led up to the band's storming TOTP performance of You Really Got Me.

But as success arrived, tensions grew, not just between Ray and Dave, but the band as a whole, and the first act closed with a storming version of All Day And All Of The Night descending into spite-driven fisticuffs.

You got a real sense of the group as genuine individuals. Ryan O'Donnell as Ray was utterly convincing as the aloof genius who could only truly express himself through music – but what music it was! Even when the band faced collapse after a disastrous American tour – the only socialist band to be brought down by the unions, as Ray Davies' dad glumly observes – we still see the frontman as a developing artist with his own increasing demands.

"Ray boils at a different temperature," observes Aristo manager Robert Wace.

And it is through his genius that Waterloo Sunset arrives as a great act of healing, reuniting (at least temporarily) the members of the band.

:: Until Saturday May 06; tickets and info at


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