Cards on the table – I love songs that tell stories. Not “boy meets girl, girl meets boy” stories, but songs that create a character, or recall an incident, or make you see something differently once you’ve heard them.
Grand Opera House, York
Till Sat Feb 25
This is why, while my sister was dreaming of the Walker Brothers, I was obsessively wearing out her Manfred Mann EP, and dragging the radio everywhere with me in case they played a song by The Kinks.
Long before the warring Gallaghers, there were the Davies brothers. Ray was the grown up, the more cautious, the amazing songwriter.
Dave was the rebellious teenager, an extraordinary guitarist who spent his time chasing girls, alcohol and drugs – and usually catching them.
Their clashes on and off stage are legendary. Sunny Afternoon covers the first years of their work together, initially as the Ravens, and then as The Kinks.
Best of both
Sunny Afternoon isn’t a jukebox musical like Mamma Mia, nor simply a recreation of an original act, like Let It Be.
It combines the best of both – live performances, with the story of the band itself linking them together.
The four Kinks are, rightly, the stars of the whole show – Ryan O’Donnell (Ray Davies), Mark Newnham (Dave Davies), Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife) and Andrew Gallo (Mick Avory).
Their performances, both musically and dramatically, are an absolute joy.
It will be a long time before I forget the sight of Mark Newnham, swinging on a chandelier, dressed only in a leather jacket, a woman’s slip and a pair of electric blue Y-fronts, face covered in lipstick marks, and wielding an axe.
There is a lot to laugh at – but there are sad and angry moments to balance the hilarity.
They are supported by a cast of dancers, singers and actors, many of whom play several parts. The set, the choreography and the costumes cannot be faulted – from the mohair suits and Chelsea boots of the band, to the geometric-print mini-dresses of the dancers and the sharp suits of the management team.
Michael Warburton, as publisher Eddie Kassner, really stands out, as do Deryn Edwards and Robert Took as the parents of Ray and Dave.
But the star of the supporting cast has to be Lisa Wright as Rasa, the Bradford teenager who becomes Ray’s wife. Her duet with Ryan O’Donnell, of I Go To Sleep, is heartbreaking. She has a beautiful, pure soprano voice.
The musical numbers are not just performed as if at a live concert. They are skilfully woven into the story, some of the most famous riffs teasing the audience for a long time before the entire song makes its entrance.
Other songs are handled in surprising, but effective ways – the elegiac, a cappella version of Days left the audience breathless.
Energy, power and talent
But the live numbers are what really get the audience on their feet. They are incredibly loud and powerful, vibrating in your chest and making it impossible to sit politely and listen.
(After one especially loud chord, a fellow audience member in the row behind me declared, “And that’s why I’m deaf…”) The energy, power and sheer talent of their musicianship simply cannot be ignored.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that there is an encore. The capacity crowd was on its feet, clapping and dancing, mingling with some of the cast who came down into the auditorium to amp up the atmosphere.
Making my way out at the end, all I could see around me were smiles and happy faces – which is a pretty good way for any show to leave you.
I don’t know if there are still tickets available – but if you’ve been in two minds about seeing the show, do yourself a favour and go for it. You won’t be disappointed.