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Posts Tagged ‘The Kinks’

Well, we’ve already had biographical juke-box musicals about The Four Seasons, Carole King and The Kinks (all good, and all still running in the West End), so here is Wales’ contribution. The story of the early years of the septuagenarian from The Valleys with a 50+ year career and a voice that still sounds great at 75. He comes from a town over the hill in the next valley to me and I saw him perform in a local community centre in my early teens, so how could I resist this?

Actually, it’s not a juke-box musical as it only includes a few of his hits, as the closing number and the mini-concert encore. Though there is a fair bit of music, it feels more like a play with music than a musical, as it tells the story from his mid-teens, fatherhood and marriage at sixteen, through to his appearance on Top of the Pops when It’s Not Unusual (originally written for Sandie Shaw, it seems!) makes No.1.

We move from home at wife Linda’s mums in Trefforest to a variety of venues in the valleys, signing to Gordon Mills (a not so big shot from Tonypandy, it seems) and on to London for a six month struggle that he almost gave up on. Along the way he picks up a band called The Senators who become The Squires before Mills drops them for a different, brassier sound for the first big hit. 

The music is played live by the four actors playing The Senators / Squires – Daniel Lloyd, Tom Connor, John McLarnon and Kieran Bailey – who make a great sound. During the final scene and encore, Phylyip Harries who has been our excellent narrator Jack Lister adds sax, Elin Phillips (lovely as Tom’s wife) adds piano and Nicola Bryan (Tom’s mother) proves a dab hand at the trumpet!  I thought Kit Orton was outstanding as Tom, terrific voice and great at all those trademark moves. Just eleven actor-musicians tell the story and provide the music!

Mike James’ writing is lucid, economical and good humoured storytelling and Geinor Styles stages it very effectively on a simple set, where projections are used to great effect to take you from the Welsh valley locations to London locations. The show exceeded my expectations and proved to be a charming, and for me, nostalgic story.

It’s on a different scale (and budget, no doubt) to those other bio-musicals, but Theatr Na Nog are to be congratulated on producing something that oozes quality in every department and honours a Welsh legend great flair.

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Just before the interval in this show there’s a scene onstage in Cardiff where the conflict between The Kinks Mick & Dave comes to a head with an attack by one on the other. I was there! Hampstead Theatre can’t pass for Cardiff Capitol (now deceased), but a wave of nostalgia swept over me nonetheless. This bio-musical is much more than nostalgia, though, but it’s a particular treat for someone for whom The Kinks are part of the soundtrack of my life.

Covering just four years their their formation to Waterloo Sunset, Joe Penhall’s biography of The Kinks, with Ray Davies’ songs, takes us from Dave Davies’ band The Ravens, backing a stockbroker at posh parties, through their signing to not one but four managers, their disastrous US tour (where their refusal to toe the union line got them banned from the country), their signing by serial turnaround manager Alan Klein to the redemptive recording of Waterloo Sunset and the triumphant return to the US to play Madison Square Gardens. The music pervades it all, in snatches and full songs, a lot now iconic but many rarely heard.

I gasped when I entered to see Miriam Buether’s set of three walls of speakers. The auditorium has been reconfigured with a central platform thrust halfway into the stalls and a middle horizontal aisle and two side aisles which bring the action into the audience very effectively. The period feel is conveyed by the clothing, including those now infamous bright red suits – great retro style, looking completely authentic. Edward Hall’s staging, with choreography by Adam Cooper no less, is excellent.

The songs feel as if they belong with their scenes. Ray & Dave’s dad sings Deadend Street like he’s telling you his life story. Dedicated Follower of Fashion accompanies their first visit to the stylist who created those suits. Days is sung acapella as they look like they’re about to break up. Sunny Afternoon accompanies a summer of World Cup euphoria. Waterloo Sunset becomes their reconciliation and seems to be created for the first time before your very eyes.

It’s a great story and its great storytelling, with a soundtrack to die for of songs that seem to have been especially written. In his programme note, Penhall says he wants people to come out ‘profoundly moved, euphoric and transported’. Well, he succeeded for me. This is no juke-box musical; like Jersey Boys, it’s musical biography, but this one’s British and maybe easier to identify with. I adored it.

George Maguire looks every inch the pop star, spending most of the evening with bottle in hand and some of it in a frock! John Dagliesh’s Ray is more restrained and thoughtful as is the man himself, and the relationship between them feels very real. Lillie Flynn (Johnny’s sister!) is lovely as Ray’s child bride Rasa and Adam Sopp & Ned Derrington, as Mick & Pete respectively, complete the band with fine characterisations.

It’s still in preview, but it seems pretty ready to me – though the sound needs a bit of attention. Ray Davies’ music is like bottled London and potted Englishness. It’s the essence of living here, nostalgic but fresh and timeless. By the end I was on my feet, singing along, with a warm glow and a tear in my eye (and none of that bloody screaming at Cardiff Capitol). A triumph for all involved, but particularly for the bard of Muswell Hill. Time to book again, I think…..

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