Theatre review: Sunny Afternoon at Hampstead Theatre

Ned Derrington (Pete), John Dagleish (Ray), Lillie Flynn (Rasa) and George Maguire (Dave) in Sunny A

Ned Derrington (Pete), John Dagleish (Ray), Lillie Flynn (Rasa) and George Maguire (Dave) in Sunny Afternoon - Credit: Archant

Considering Hampstead Theatre’s transformation in recent years from a debt-ridden venue into a national powerhouse for new British drama, perhaps it is fitting that its first musical is the hugely entertaining story of another underdog.

Masterminded as it was by legendary Kinks frontman Ray Davies, Sunny Afternoon was never going to be an impartial retelling of the notoriously feuding band’s early history, but the sheer quality of his songwriting makes its musical numbers impossible to resist.

A Well Respected Man, Lola, All Day and All of the Night and standout centrepiece You Really Got Me are just some of the countless classics that are faithfully recreated using vintage instruments and a multi-talented cast able to transform into a live band at any moment.

Multi-talented cast

In a nod to the Davies family’s music hall influences, every member of the cast, no matter how central, is happy to pick up a guitar, trombone or tambourine. This inclusivity is furthered by Miriam Buether’s ambitious set design, which notably includes a catwalk so John Dagleish’s convincingly troubled Ray can croon into the crowd while dancers strut around in devilishly short mini-skirts.

Wisely happy to rely on the songs to drive the story, Joe Penhall’s script can at times feel too well-trodden and noticeably biased.

George Maguire goes to impressive, dress-wearing lengths to capture the wild youthfulness of a teenage Dave Davies, but it’s hard to imagine the real man ever saying his brother is a “victim of his own genius”. Furthermore, Ray’s version of the legendary story behind the conception of You Really Got Me is sure to infuriate not just Dave, but diehard Kinks fans.

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While the tale of the troubled working class songwriter ripped off by industry types isn’t the most original, it does provide a fascinating insight into the band’s bumpy rise, which during the second act sheds light on their infamous ban from America. Aided by colourful 60s design, as well as some fantastically versatile performances, it is also a foot-stomping concert experience that captures the high adrenaline of the Kinks in their pomp.

Rating: Four Stars

Until May 24.