Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Sunny Afternoon : Hampstead Theatre
First of all I should say that I didn't actively hate this, which I feared might be the case based on the first twenty minutes establishing The Kinks' working class credentials via the medium of having their family talk about 'going down the pub to watch the football.'
In fact football features a lot here, as either a metaphor or as historical wallpaper. We get to hear England win the World Cup whilst the cast sings 'Sunny Afternoon'. I don't know whether The Kinks actually cared about football at all. Perhaps they did. The writer certainly wants us to know that they did.
Those of you who have read my blogs previously will know that I'm usually pretty easily pleased. I try to look for the positives. Mainly because I'm aware that no one - or no one sane - actively sets out to make something terrible. And this isn't terrible. It's just not quite right.
Part of the problem might be that we're too familiar with the story. Not necessarily of The Kinks themselves but of too many bands : ripped off by parasitical managers who try and make the boys something they don't want to be, arguments, fights and fiascoes. It could be the story of a hundred bands. However there is, struggling to get out, a slightly different story about families and friendship. It's there but it's surrounded by too much padding and too many events and experiences that might be true then but have gathered the veneer of cliche as time has passed.
I should say here that the cast isn't the problem. They do a brilliant job with the material. I'm not an expert of musicals so I'm not going to pontificate on the quality of the singing. It was fine by me. Particularly good were Ben Caplin as Eddie Kassner, Lille Flynn as Rasa, George Maguire as Dave, Adam Sopp as Mick and John Dagleish as Ray. Although with that haircut I found myself thinking that Dagleish looked less like Ray Davies and more like Peter Serefinowicz doing Paul McCartney but I digress. It isn't the cast.
And it certainly isn't the music. If you come out of this not thinking that The Kinks are a bloody great band then you have a problem. Some of the songs are performed pretty straight, almost like a Kinks tribute band, especially in the 'encore' (of which more later). Others have gone through the transmogrification of the musical. But they still work. Sometimes brilliantly. The scene where Rasa (Lille Flynn) sings 'I Go To Sleep' is wonderful for example. It's fantastic lyrics sung well. The music is great but if I wanted to see a Kinks tribute band, I'd go see a Kinks tribute concert.
But it doesn't quite lift itself as a piece to the level of the songs. Now I know this was the second preview so I'm sure there's more work that will be done. In fact I'd be interested - in an almost cold academic way - in seeing it again late in the run just to see what they've cut back or dropped. It certainly appears to need a bit more directorial control.
It's directed by Edward Hall who hasn't put a foot wrong with the limited things I've seen him direct elsewhere but this seems to need tightening and perhaps some focus on what the story they are trying to tell is here.
Perhaps it is just me. I know that during the encore - when the actors play a medley of Kinks songs almost dead straight - I was almost the only person not on their feet dancing and clapping along. That's partly because I'm aware of what an utter dick I look dancing and partly because I find actors trying to encourage me to get up on my feet brings out and almost belligerent level of grumpiness. The more you try and shame me into dancing the more I'm going to sit there looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp. If I want to get up, I'll get up. Thank you.
I may have made this out to be worse than it was. It certainly seemed to entertain most of the people around me and I suspect if you just concentrate on the songs and forget about the story it makes for a fine evening. But there's a good story in here. It's just buried under too much flab.
However as I always say: see it yourself and then decide.