You really got me now, you got me so I can’t sleep at night go the lyrics of the 1964 smash hit by The Kinks. And it’s true. After being transported back to the 1960s for an evening packed with music and dancing watching Sunny Afternoon at The Opera House, I was inspired to stay up late to write this review.
You Really Got Me became an international hit reaching number 1 in the UK and the US top 10. In this musical based on the life and songs of The Kinks, it is used to great effect, slipped in at the start of new scenes, argued over by the band and producers in terms of how aggressive it is and played to perfection by a cast who have musical talent as well as acting charisma.
It helps punctuate the progression of the story of a band who wanted to use sound for social effect. And on the opening night in Manchester, it certainly had the audience jiving in their seats.
Written by Joe Penhall with music and lyrics by Ray himself, Sunny Afternoon takes us on the journey of The Ravens, a 1950s-style crooning group made up of four working class lads from Muswell Hill who are quickly transformed into a band which embraces a much rawer, more socially-conscious sound – The Kinks.
The musical gets under the skin not only of the group but reveals their role in what is presented as a social movement. The narrative shifts between song and spoken word, dancing and drama, skilfully balanced to keep the storyline clear.
Costume changes (with brilliant sixties clothing) are incorporated into elaborate dances as we are shown an era when the public began to be preoccupied with image and the intimate lives of musicians.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the power of Ray Davies’ words driving the action, his lyrics taking the band to new levels. Ryan O’Donnell captures the stubbornness and sentimentality of Ray Davies which made The Kinks so unique.
They’re all here – Larry Page ‘The Teenage Rage’ the embodiment of the exploitative manager, a gaggling stream of sisters and groupies, a fussing mother excellently played by Deryn Edwards with clever staging shifting the setting between home and studio, stage and TV set.
The audience are invited to follow the story, yet also sympathise with the characters who at times seem helpless in it. The highly visual cast are well-choreographed by Adam Cooper to make full use of the stage with energetic movement and gestures even when the toe-tapping dancing has stopped.
We see the entertainment on the surface, with renditions of biggest hits such as Dead End Street, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Lola but also reflect the chaotic intensity underneath, which catapulted The Kinks to fame.
At one point it all becomes too much for Ray who, after a famous 1964 appearance on Top of the Pops, confesses to his parents, ‘I’m not about for this.’ It makes us wonder what roles are we willing to assume in order to succeed?
“However tough it gets…. never ever forget who you are,” replies his father. Cliché? Sometimes the musical slips into familiar old narratives – staying true to oneself, upper class versus working class, money is a drug – but the vibrant nature of the production prevent them from being over-tired.
The wild behaviour of Dave Davies adds another level of excitement. We see him stabbing an amp with scissors, swinging from a chandelier wearing a pink dress and getting into a fight with drummer Mick Avory, acted by Andrew Gallo with a brilliant sulky sullenness which adds a good character contrast – this incident actually happened and took place at the Capitol Theatre, Cardiff on 19 May 1965 when Dave Davies was knocked unconscious and needed 16 stitches.
In the music, there is mayhem and discord despite the harmonies. This is a side of The Kinks you may not have seen before. It’s summarised in a single, spine tingling riff – those opening chords of You Really Got Me, the raw, driving guitar sound which shocked audiences at the time.
Sunny Afternoon is at The Opera House until the 27th August. I would definitely recommend it. It really got me.