Sunny Afternoon: Proof That Jukebox Musicals Can Work

Posted on 7 July 2016

I am no fan of the film version of Mamma Mia. It prioritises song over substance, indulging itself in ABBA as its only unique selling point. Equally, the now-closed We Will Rock You makes me feel slightly nauseous as Ben Elton’s attempt at narrative car crashes its way through a series of the best rock songs ever written. You can understand then why I was filled with trepidation when buying Sunny Afternoon tickets for my mum’s birthday.

The Harold Pinter is a lovely little theatre: its staff are welcoming and the building itself feels very warm. It has been home to the Kinks musical, Sunny Afternoon, since its transfer from the Hampstead Theatre. On its way, it has managed to garner numerous awards including 4 Olivier’s, including Best New Musical.

I tried to put my preconceptions surrounding jukebox musicals behind but I didn’t get the chance: they were thrown out of the theatre by the extraordinary sound coming from on stage. As the kind of person who knew the famous Kinks songs, a lot of the numbers were entirely new for me, and seemed purposefully written for the emotions and narrative on stage. My mother, on the other hand, was sitting foot tapping and singing along next to me – as was everybody else in my row!

The clever set design placed the action inside a giant record player style box which saw set wheeled in and out by the cast and ASMs. The music largely came from the superb group of actors, who were accompanied by a group of permanent musicians, and sent goose bumps regularly down my arms as The Kink’s incredible bass lines and guitar solos resonanted around the building.

The cast superbly took on the real life characters they played and clearly loved what they were doing. It is hard to perform as a performer but they did it confidently and excitingly. The thing that sets this musical out from its compatriots is its focus on story: the book follows the early life of The Kinks, and the narrative is at the forefront. The band’s music is used intelligently to reinforce emotion, but never unnecessarily: the hit Lola only featuring in the encore as it simply did not fit in the overall performance.

My mum had tears of joy streaming down her face as she was up, dancing about in the Circle with other audience members. The sheer joy this show provides is fantastic, as well as being a damn good piece of theatre at the same time. Unfortunately though, it is closing in 2016 – before embarking on a national tour – so the Sunny Afternoon will inevitably fade. But it presents a new dawn on how to create a truly fantastic jukebox musical