Sunny Afternoon at The Liverpool Empire

Posted on 9 February 2017
By Chris High
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When it was announced that Sunny Afternoon, the story of The Kinks which is currently running at The Liverpool Empire, would be coming to Liverpool then it immediately went on the ‘must see list’. Being a huge admirer of Ray and Dave Davies’ music – and the stories surrounding their huge, hit-filled career – surely this was certain to put a big fat tick in all the boxes in much the same way as Jersey Boys. Ah well. We live and learn.

It should be ingrained now. Going into any show with a preconceived idea of how good / bad something might be is nearly always a mistake, for better or worse. In this case it was – for the most part – unfortunately the latter for a whole host of reasons, but largely that it came across as being pretty joyless bordering on the dull.

Yes the songs are there and these are performed pretty well with the cast letting their hair down, swapping instruments in a manner that is impressive to say the least. The vocals, particularly on the big numbers such as Dedicated Follower of Fashion, All Day and All of the Night and You Really Got Me are belted out with more than just a little meat to the considerable bone by Ryan O’Donnell, who’s laid back reluctance is at times endearing. At others, though, it is almost annoyingly ungrateful.

Yet if there is one overriding error it is in the way that some of the material – most notably an acapella version of Days – is woven into the narrative in a Juke Box Musical kind of way, rather than becoming chronological milestones along a path riddled with anecdotes.

Take I Go To Sleep, for instance. Although written by Ray Davies, The Kinks never released or recorded it. Indeed, the two most popular recordings are that produced by Marion and then, later, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Shoehorning it into proceedings so as to be able to give Lisa Wright’s Rasa Davies a nice, recognisable song to sing – no matter how well – came across as being more than a little ham fisted.

As for the reluctant, ‘fish-out-of-water’ management team of Grenville Collins played by Tomm Coles, and Robert Wace, played by Joseph Richardson, on these two characterisations it’s a wonder The Kinks got out of the bedroom in which they honed their talents let along released upon a music hungry world.

Then there is the pace of the proceedings. Dave Davies is a renowned rabble rousing party animal on a par with Keith Moon. Here Mark Newnham’s portrayal tries too hard to get this across – and his simmering need to be as popular as his brother – with little more than a feather boa, the world’s tiniest chandelier and a few cross-dressing exploits. In the end his antics are more sad and confused than daring and shocking.

Having said this, though, it should be added that Newham can certainly handle a guitar and really lets it rip when the music demands it.

The set, a three sided box lined with amps that’s adorned with a circular lighting rig above is massively underused, with out-of-costume stage hands wheeling furniture about between scenes so that the ‘fictional dream’ that’s required is broken still further.

In all then, Sunny Afternoon turns out to be more of Wet Wednesday. This is a shame as there’s more than enough to make The Kinks come alive in so many other three-dimensional, exciting and enticing ways.

Sunny Afternoon
The Liverpool Empire
February 7 – February 11, 2017
Author: Ray Davies
Director: Edward Hall
Cast Includes: Ryan O’Donnell, Mark Newnham, Lisa Wright, Michael Warburton, Tomm Coles, Joseph Richardson, Jayne Asley, Robert Took
PR RATING: *** Disappointing