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Review of Sunny Afternoon at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

As I entered my fourth year of really regular theatre going, I wasn't really needing a reminder of why I went to the theatre from my first show of 2017. However if I had needed one, Sunny Afternoon would have provided that defibrillator shock. To put it brief and succinct, theatre rarely gets as buzzing and brilliant as this. That is the short review out of the way.

Those still here, I will elaborate. The signs were of course pretty good, a phenomenally successful West End run and a little Olivier Award in the bag. However awards don't always tell the tale, but with Sunny Afternoon they do. There is no question that this is one of the best shows I have seen, and if it isn't in my top five at the end of the year review, I shall look back on a very good year.

While often the music is relied on too much in these kind of musicals and the need for a coherent story to be told discarded, Joe Penhall's book (based on the original story by Ray Davies) is solid and entertaining throughout, and often extremely funny.

Direction from Edward Hall and design from Miriam Buether of the show are also top notch, and while the set changes are kept basic, the theatre space itself has rarely been better used. The aisles are packed with action as the cast buzz up and down them and an amazingly well used catwalk projects into the centre of the stalls bringing the performance even more to the audience.

Centre stage are two brilliant performances from Ryan O'Donnell (Ray Davies) and Mark Newnham (Dave Davies). They have pretty much it all, from stage presence, excellent character creation, poignant partnership with each other, and quite brilliant singing voices.

There are more than a few quite remarkable scenes within this show that remain with you long after the curtain drops. The staggeringly brilliant acapella version of Days is one of the most pitch perfect performances that I have seen from a musical and receives every bit the response from the audience it gets. Likewise is Lisa Wright's (Rasa) tender and sweet performance of I Go To Sleep, it is so beautiful and leaves a tear in the eye, of the chap sitting next to me.

One other scene that leaves the theatre goer in awe of the performers they are watching is Andrew Gallo's drum solo. It reinforces the fact that stage performers with their staggering pack of skills are of another level over most of those you might see on that box in the corner of your living room. Just little moments like that make theatre truly the most special thing in the world at times.

Many of the classic songs are created solidly throughout, and while some are a little sledgehammered into relevant spots, it matters not, this is music perfection and a joy to hear them all. The early arrival of the opening lines of You Really Got Me, to stilted and pausing action from the ensemble brought chills and goosebumps to me and gave a very true sign of the brilliance to come. Towards the end, the band scene creating Waterloo Sunset (my favourite Kinks song), through suggestions and ideas springing to life, may or may not be frivolous and a little make believe, but it makes another brilliant scene to conclude the show.

There were a few technical issues on opening night (which from the timing issues early on, appeared to be lights related), which even caused a break in the first half. However for a show as good as this, this goes down as simply a shame, rather than anything more. These things happen and it was swiftly and well handled, which is all that matters.

Sunny Afternoon at two and half hours (plus an interval) is a long show, however throughout it maintains a brilliant high standard and even when it ends, you want more. The audience are as expected up on their feet at the end as the concert and a performance of Lola brings a quite, quite brilliant show to its end. As I finish this review, I am preparing to head back to see the show again, as to see theatre this good doesn't happen too often. I advise that if you love theatre, you make a little trip to Sunny Afternoon as well.

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Performance reviewed: Tuesday 10th January, 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Sunny Afternoon runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 14th January, 2017 
and continues its tour thoughout 2017. Details of dates and locations can be found at http://sunnyafternoonthemusical.com/


For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


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