Review: Sunny Afternoon at Manchester Opera House

Sunny Afternoon tour. The Kinks musical
Sunny Afternoon tour. The Kinks musical

It was only appropriate that I rocked up to Manchester’s Opera House on a classic English sunny afternoon, the city almost horizontal in the longed-for heat.

Within sight of the theatre was mayhem as theatre-goers and a smattering of celebrities packed into the press night showing of multiple Olivier award-winning Sunny Afternoon, the latest musical to land in the city and one with a buzz we haven’t seen in a while.

This is a very British musical, but is much more than a showcase for 60s legends The Kinks and a celebration of Britishness, it is a reminder of how stupendous their musical, societal and political legacy actually is - and what’s more it’s a great night out.

If you think you are not really a fan of the Kinks, you probably are really.

The band’s raw, powerful and riotous sounds and lyrics are the backdrop to more than one generation and though germinated in the 60s moved across the 70s, 80s, 90s and are just as resonant now.

This genius of this production, already a hit in London and now on tour, is that Kinks frontman Ray Davies and his team, who created the story, have sought out some extraordinarily talented musicians to recreate that authentic Kinks sounds and tell the tale of the band’s explosion on to the music scene.

The cast play and sing their own music with remarkable power, with only a few supporting musicians on stage.

Hits such as ‘You’ve really got me’, ‘Dedicated follower of fashion’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and the eponymous ‘Sunny Afternoon’ are belted out by the remarkable former Jethro Tull band member Ryan O’Donnell (as Ray Davies) Mark Newnham (Dave Davies), Garmon Rhys (bassist Pete Quaife) and Andrew Gall (as drummer Mick Avory), with the support of a small powerful cast with a special mention for talented Lisa Wright, as Ray’s wife Rasa.

It’s also easy to forget Davies penned tunes for other artists and elements of this discography are included in this show, namely ‘Stop your sobbing’ and ‘I go to sleep’ which were both recorded by Davies’ one time squeeze Chrissie Hynde (of Pretenders fame).

Also on the playlist is my favourite ‘Lola’ which has been recorded since by multiple artists - it is also a little known fact that Davies had to alter the song from Coca Cola to Cherry Cola in the British version of the song to appease the staid BBC re a commercial reference.

The scene where the band stab holes in their amplifiers to crate their unique sounds, explains why it is quite so loud.

Signs stuck to theatre walls to warn of this fact in advance.

But the show starts low-key as it introduces the Davies brothers and their family and the early development of The Kinks, the storylines focusing on emotional highs and lows with the constant battle between artists and management.

More importantly it chronicles the socialist-leaning Kinks v. the system, their battles with the taxman and the rude and unfair realities of the music business and 60s exploitative business in general.

It was also fantastic to see the man himself Ray Davies not just in attendance on this special night but making an appearance on stage with his guitar at the age of 72. A real honour to be there.

A fantastic and entertaining night exploring the euphoric highs and lows of a band and of Britain in the grip of rapid change. It resonates and not just amongst the Kinks’ most loyal fan base.

As I made my way out of the historic theatre, I could hear a deep choral bass emanating from the confines of the men’s bathroom, which was quickly accompanied by a sing along from the queue.

I will now be humming it ‘All day and all of the night’..

*Runs until August 27