Constant Reader, you will know that I'm not the biggest fan of jukebox musicals. Along with the 'film-to-stage' show that have proliferated of late, the jukebox musical is the woeful sign of a race to the bottom mentality in theatre. However, when Hampstead Theatre announced they were staging a musical based on the rise of The Kinks using their marvelous back catalogue with the blessing of Ray Davies, well it was a no-brainer. I wasn't the only one either as the show is now sold out for it's run. Although there are some dodgy moments, the show - and the music - is ultimately triumphant.
All the usual elements are there in Joe Penhall's book: the humble beginnings, the sudden rise to fame, the inter-group rivalries that are thrown into sharp relief by the availability of drink and drugs and the inevitable nervous breakdown. Sadly - and although the real salient point of The Kinks' story is the shifting relationship of the brothers Ray and Dave Davies - Penhall's script settles for the sketchiest of details and told in clichéd lines that almost made me wonder whether he was deliberately attempting a strip-cartoon version of their story.
Luckily, the show also has Ray Davies' songs to flesh out the story. Ray Davies' songs always have been mini-chapters from an ongoing story and here they help move the story forward as well as being joyful celebrations of this most idiosyncratic of groups. Where Penhall does do well is sorting out the labyrinthine union politics that saw The Kinks being banned from playing in America for four years in the latter part of the 1960s.
Edward Hall directs the show at a galloping space which helps to cover the thinness of the book and wraps the action around the stalls auditorium, making full use of Miriam Buether's large stage and runway which stretches out into the middle of the stalls - and guess who was sat at the end of it? It was actually great fun to have the cast whizzing around past you - oh and I got pulled up out of my seat to join with the dancing to Britain's favourite song about a nightclub tranny "Lola"!
The busy cast all contribute to the show's success and the four lead players deserve all the kudos they will receive. Ned Derrington and Adam Sopp both had their moments to shine as bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory, part of the group but always in the shadows of the fractious brothers. John Dagleish had one hell of a job taking on the role of Ray Davies and while he gave a sympathetic performance, he never totally convinced probably due to the fact that he looked more like Paul McCartney than our Ray!
Much more successful was George Maguire as the volatile Dave Davies, he was devilishly charismatic and to quote Lady Caroline Lamb's summation of Lord Byron "mad, bad and dangerous to know"! There were also nice supporting performances from Tam Williams and Dominic Tighe as the group's upper-class managers, Vince Leigh and Ben Caplan as their other managers and Philip Bird as the flashy Allan Klein. Lillie Flynn as Ray's wife Rasa wrestled with a rather thankless role.
The show concludes with the creation of Ray's masterpiece "Waterloo Sunset" - and yes, Constant Reader, that song worked it's magic on me once again. Terry and Julie crossed over the river again and I was in tearful paradise.
We flash-forward to 1970 and the magnificent "Lola", and by the time the cast had left the stage, I had a huge grin on my face and wanting this great production to transfer to the West End where it and it's wonderful score can be given a wider audience. In a perfect world, it would be in repertory with Ray Davies' haunting musical COME DANCING from 2008 which was his take on another moment from his past.
I hope he enjoyed the opening night at Hampstead...