Sunny Afternoon – The Play

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre – Philip Bird (Company), Ned Derrington (Pete), Adam Sopp (Mick), John Dagleish (Ray), Vince Leigh (Larry Page) and George Maguire (Dave)

LONDON, United Kingdom  When England won the World Cup in 1966, the crowd at Wembley Stadium erupted in song. But rather than lyrics of triumph, they were singing Sunny Afternoon – a bittersweet hymn to the poetry of a sunny summer day after all material gains are lost, and sunshine and cold beer are all that is left. Nearly fifty years later, Ray Davies has written the eponymous musical with the stated intention of telling us how that glorious afternoon ended up forever framed by such an unlikely soundtrack. How did The Kinks, four working-class lads from north London barely out of their teens, go from playing at friends’ weddings to creating some of the most famous and beloved music of their generation?

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre

Formed in 1963, The Kinks rose to fame in the following few years, with hit singles like You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Waterloo Sunset and, of course, the song that gives its title to the show, Sunny Afternoon. Produced by the Hampstead Theatre and directed by Edward Hall, the musical traces the early steps that led The Kinks to success. Based on the story as told by Davies ­– the group’s frontman and one of the two brothers at the heart of the band ­–­ the tale centres around the first few years of the band’s existence, from their encounter in 1963 with two self-styled managers borrowed from the City, to their first recording ventures and troubles with recording companies, until their US tour and clashes with the local artists’ unions led to their being banned from performing in the country.

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre – George Maguire (Dave) and John Dagleish (Ray)

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre – Dominic Tighe (Robert Wace), Tam Williams (Grenville Collins), George Maguire (Dave), John Dagleish (Ray), Ned Derrington (Pete) and Adam Sopp (Mick)

Much is made of The Kink’s working-class origins and the way they influenced their music, and of the way in which the very different and often incompatible personalities of each band member – especially the clash between the reserved Ray, introspective and somewhat prone to moments of depression, and his younger brother Dave, who seems to buy whole-heartedly into the lifestyle of the careless party-animal rockstar. But the play does now show a smooth rise to stardom: instead, it traces both the ups and downs in a world where you are only as successful as your latest song, and the high and lows of life behind the stage – highlighting both Dave’s frantic quest for enjoyment and Ray’s dark moods and nervous breakdowns as the other side of the coin.

Some of The Kinks’ most famous songs are seamlessly woven into the narrative throughout, highlighting how the lyrics spoke of their lives and of how Davies saw the world at the time – inspired by his family, friends and fellow band members. This allows even for those less familiar with the history of the band or with their songs to get into the rhythm of the play and to start to care about the group’s relationships as lived through their music. The show does a very good job of making one feel how each song originates from an experience, a feeling, a moment actually lived by the writer and performers that first brought it to life. And, like many of The Kink’s hits over the years, the musical has a bittersweet quality that helps the viewer to relate to the characters, during both their highs and their lows. With beautiful costumes and a set that evokes both the exciting new world of 1960s London and the ‘exotic’ modernism of the US, the atmosphere becomes so engaging as to transport you back to times long past.

And while the finale strays dangerously towards tribute band territory, overall you leave the theatre feeling both joyous and melancholy, after spending two joyous hours in the company of some of the most iconic rock tunes ever recorded.

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre

Sunny Afternoon Hampstead Theatre – Lillie Flynn (Rasa) and John Dagleish (Ray)

Courtesy of: Hampstead Theatre | Website:
The views expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Fashion Globe Magazine.
Emma De Angelis About the author

A historian by training and editor by profession, reviews the glittering lights of the West End, unsuspected ballet classes in shabby Whitechapel and edgy shows in disused railway tunnels. With a PhD from LSE, she lives and breathes the London stage.