Put four guys together and what do you get? Well, if it’s Ray Davies, his madcap younger brother Dave, best mate bassist Pete and drummer Mick from The Kinks, you get some great songs and what deserves to be a hit musical.
If, on the other hand, it’s a quartet of middle-aged managers on a team-building exercise, soaked to the skin and shipwrecked on a tiny Lake District island, the result is a lot less rewarding. Tim Firth’s adroitly-cast 1992 comedy, Neville’s Island, will doubtless attract an audience keen to see a handful of well-known TV faces on stage. But this slightly updated revival rarely made me laugh. Maybe I’d left my sense of humour at home, but the jokes often seemed predictable, the humour strained and the performances hampered by a lack of plot or character development.
There’s Neil Morrissey’s ineffectual team leader Neville, Robert Webb’s emotionally fragile, born-again Christian Roy, Adrian Edmondson’s nasty, sarcastic Gordon who’s lost his rucksack and Miles Jupp’s Angus who’s packed just about everything apart from the kitchen sink (and a spare mobile battery) into his. But their ineffectual efforts to erect a flag (made out of an orange side plate), share a single sausage for sustenance and attract attention with a flare on bonfire night leave them, Lord of the Flies style, up shit creek without a paddle. Full marks to Robert Innes Hopkins, though, for a realistic watery, tree-filled set – you can literally smell the damp.
The Kinks may have floundered, too, but only in their financial and contractual dealings and their relationships with each other – not in their music. Their musical Sunny Afternoon attracts a broad crowd.
Tracing the rise to fame of these four working class lads from Muswell Hill and covering a fraught American tour, this superior juke box musical (written by Joe Penhall in conjunction with Ray Davies) seamlessly integrates the songs from their back catalogue into the plot development. Their dad reminds them of the tough times as he sings Dead End Street, Ray conducts an almost unbearably moving long-distance phone conversation with his wife Rasa (Lillie Flynn) to the strains of “ I Go to Sleep” and hell-raising, cross-dressing Dave (George Maguire) swings from a chandelier in a pink slip.
It’s an unforgettable performance in a knockout show – with John Dagleish memorably capturing the complicated personality of lead singer songwriter Ray in Edward Hall’s unmissable production, which makes you want to see it all over again the moment it ends.
Harold Pinter, Panton Street, SW1Y 4DN
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Until 23rd May
£15 – £65
Duke of York’s, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4BG
Tube: Charing Cross / Leicester Square
Until 3rd January
£15 – £55 + Premium Seats