Capturing that Ray of sunshine

Sunny Afternoon, coming to the Sheffield Lyceum next week, manages to be a cut above all those jukebox musicals charting the rise to fame of a Sixties pop band.

Thursday, 20th October 2016, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 5:53 pm
Mark Newnham (Dave Davies), Ryan O'Donnell (Ray Davies), Garmon Rhys (Peter Quaife) and Andrew Gallo (Mick Avery) in Sunny Afternoon

Perhaps that says something about The Kinks themselves and also the way the show has attempted to capture the spirit of the youthful rebellious 1960s.

It surely too reflects the creative talent behind Sunny Afternoon. It is co-written by Ray Davies himself, the driving force of The Kinks, and Joe Penhall, the playwright known for Blue/Orange and screenwriter of The Road.

Director Edward Hall is an associate director of the National Theatre, best remembered in these parts for bringing all-male Shakespeare productions with his company Propeller.

It earned Ray Davies an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music and he still comes along to watch performances, according to Ryan O’Donnell, who seems unfazed by that.

“I had the honour of singing a duet with him of Waterloo Sunset on the day David Bowie passed (recreating a duet at Carnegie Hall between Davies and Bowie in 2003).

“It was nice rather than daunting. Also I was telling his story when he came up on stage so he is in my world and on my stage.”

And he doesn’t attempt an impersonation. “I have met people who say I look like Ray and sound like him but I don’t think I do at all. I have tried to get inside his head and think like he does. I don’t mimic his voice.”

So what does Sunny Afternoon entail? “There’s a lot to do with their management and how Ray had a constant battle over the ownership of his music,” explains O’Donnell.

“His wife is in the story and the constant feuding with his brother and how they were banned from America and then allowed to come back.

“It moves from 1962 to 1969 and that period of their lives and their hits.”

Those include You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, All Day and All of the Night, and title song Sunny Afternoon.

But presumably not the classic Lola which was released in 1970. “It doesn’t fall into that time frame but it can’t be missed out so we do an encore,” explains O’Donnell. “I have to get out of the Sixties gear and have about 20 seconds to get changed.”

O’Donnell can claim membership of a very different group originating in the Sixties, Jethro Tull. “I was with them for five years. Ian’s voice (leader Ian Anderson) had slightly lost its range. I think they hired me principally to bring some young energy to the stage and to help with the top notes.”

He is joining them for a gig in Frankfurt in November – “but my touring days are over.”

So does he see himself as an actor or a musician? “I trained as an actor and music was only a hobby until I joined the cast of Quadrophenia,” explains the performer who played Jimmy in The Who musical on its 2009 tour.

He says he is looking forward to coming to Sheffield next week (Tuesday to Saturday) because his family from Halifax will be coming.