The musical based on the music of The Kinks came to Woking’s New Victoria Theatre and with the tentative steps of someone who is reviewing something in musical form about a band I love I went along, with the intention to suspend subjective opinion and see it from this angle, in this form, to look at it a new way. It seemed to appeal to those, many of whom said they had followed The Kinks from their early days, I wondered if young people were going to miss out on the stories of the iconic bands but then hopefully discover them through their music rather than retrospective musical. A woman behind me was with her parents, she was about my age, I heard her tell someone she hadn’t heard of the Kinks really. My hands gripped the programme, knuckles white to keep from exclaiming ‘what vortex it must be to have lived this long without having heard ‘Waterloo Sunset” ?’ and yet, what a treat to have all this music and how it colours, yet to discover. I also realised it made me sound like one of those people in pubs who drink beer with twigs in that spills on their beards as they relate facts about ZZ Top and whatever statistic that backs up their supremacy in their world. So I didn’t do anything as aggressive just ‘noticed’ how much she rustled her bag and thought to myself that if it didn’t stop before the action started I would have to roll my eyes to myself that would tell her – you bring a rustley plastic bag with sweets in to the theatre – you’re going in the review matey!
Funny to be sitting in a place like this to watch music like this that normally has you flying unfettered on your feet rather than politely tethered to a seat
The stage set rather than as a play in a gig set up, always raises hope in a live music vampire like me and it is true that the main part of the action throughout is centred around the band set up, but taking them through the times of encouragement and writing songs in the Davies family home to gig and tour and back again. Often the songs are used as narrative and sung by ensemble, many who were there who were fans of The Kinks from the beginning enjoyed that the songs had been reworked in this way, for me I like them in the way they were made rather than as an ensemble narrative to move the story on, much as it does have the relevance of pointing out what inspired them and can add poignancy. The one exception where I found this more powerful though was when Rasa (Lisa Wright) sang ‘I Go To Sleep’ very movingly, a song, though written by Davies, never released by The Kinks.
Ray Davies wrote this Olivier award winning musical and it is his character that serves as the main protagonist. It was intriguing to see his take on The Kinks and their outlook, how management were, the wariness about swinging London and Carnaby St being far away from the lives of people trying to cope and feed their kids. The social conscience weaved throughout which gave a great context of where the songs were coming from, melodies and poems now so ingrained in our culture that people celebrate Davies as a poet, the London poet, as much as a songwriter these days such is the happy legacy of his prolific writing.
The cast are fantastic, there is alot of comedy and the dynamic between characters is sharp and lively. Ryan O’Donnell as Ray Davies brings a poetic vulnerability to the character that draws very well a portrait of someone whose creativity is a force rather than a choice that the pop world is sometimes stifling, on a rollercoaster that he can’t get off. The management foretelling the hit factory style of the later 80’s music moguls are presented as humans with stories to tell rather than a caricature of evil Svengali and Tomm Coles (Grenville Collins) Joseph Richardson (Robert Wace) Michael Warburton (Eddie Kassner) and Richard Hurst (Larry Page) do well to show that part of the culture then was that though they take care of everything and might genuinely believe that to be right, the management team turn music into a factory line and can destroy creativity and people with it. Mark Newnham (Dave Davies) is both hilarious and exasperating as the younger brother of the two, wanting to embrace the opportunities and ambitions afforded by the songs, giving his unique energy to the guitar parts, yet frustrated at the lack of speed things are happening. Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife) and Andrew Gallo (Mick Avory) wavered from nostalgic longing for the old band days before the process took over to the explosive fights between Avory and Dave Davies whilst in the middle Quaife tries to keep it all together but then admits to feeling isolated and is told by Ray Davies ‘but that is what being in a band is all about’
A special mention should be made to the musicians playing too, in support of the cast with Andy Gammon taking the solos on guitar.
The scenes of frustration with each other, the hanging together and being unable to give up on that elusive magic illustrates well that this was written by a musician and writer going through the dichotomy of having to accept every part of the way music and art is produced and enjoyed and disseminated. It illustrates well that feeling of not quite fitting in wherever you are unless it is lost in the creative process.
Ultimately it tells of a band encouraged in their talent, creative forces come together and magic happens and people want to hear it, like most bands that is the pinnacle of their work – the Davies brothers were fortunate to have a large encouraging family and his father played by Robert Took exhorts him in time of doubt
‘No matter how tough it gets, you never give up, never back down, and never ever forget who you are!’
With this touching and enjoyable snapshot of The Kinks, their lives and music and what meaning it has brought to so many – it was good advice indeed
Sunny Afternoon is at New Victoria Theatre Woking until Sat 5 November www.atgtickets.com/woking 08448717645