It is not every week the Hampstead audience gets to leap up and down with 1966 World Cup confetti in its hair, chanting “L-L-L Lola!” at girls in vinyl hotpants. Especially minutes after shedding a tear over “Waterloo Sunset” and the dear old days before its knees creaked. I do not mock: I am of their number. The Kinks Really-got-me-going when I was fourteen. For beat and melody and wit , the roughneck Londoners were second only to the Merseyside Beatles, their songwriter Ray Davies our demigod.


He has, of course, endured: the group made albums until ‘93, and Davies has a CBE, a solo career and now the Hampstead Theatre’s first musical. It tells his story with his lyrics, book by Joe Penhall and gung-ho direction by Ed Hall. In the lead it gives John Dalgleish his first big theatre job: which if there’s any justice will make him a serious star.


As the restless, creatively intense, troubled young Ray he is mesmerizing: a pale face with hooded down-slanting eyes, a skinny streak of pure feeling. This mournful towering urchin holds the sprawling catwalk stage, whether stamping out a big number or drooped in depressions which erupt into unaccompanied, sorrowfully melodic song. During rehearsals Penhall learned, unexpectedly, how Davies’ sister died when he was thirteen the day she gave him his first guitar. She sang a tune he can’t remember. “Every time I sit down to write a song I hope it’ll be that one”. Could be corny, but Dalgliesh carries it.

The plot, rather too linear, is of how the Kinks were formed, not with cold-eyed corporate calculation but from working-class lads in a back bedroom: Davies, Pete, Mick the stroppy drummer and Ray’s sixteen-year-old brother Dave. George Maguire memorably plays the latter as a flop-haired, hot-eyed wild kid happiest swinging drunk from a hotel chandelier in a pink bra-slip and descending to take a fire-axe to the hotel reception desk.


Good entertainment, but we have heard other tales of gifted young men setting the music scene afire and getting in trouble with contracts, percentages, tricky marriages and internal fights. There’s an original moment, though, when they break with the posh Larry Page who is convinced that in the end, classes can’t mix. Brilliantly funny and touching to sing “Thank you for the days” in mournful a capella barbershop. The American tour debacle is amusingly sketched, notably a cartoonish moment when the US promoter fears Davies’ Lithuanian wife is a Commie, and the riposte “No, we’re Socialists” provokes a squeal of “We have children in the audience!”.


Some lightly explored strands could be more definite: class, postwar austerity, rock as a new aristocracy. The music is of course terrific, including less-known Davies songs and new numbers. Choreographer Adam Cooper creates a Denmark-Street tap and some authentic 1960’s disco: gymnastic, jerky, sexlessly pre-twerky. The story ends with Davies’ first marriage intact and a Madison Square Gardens triumph, but I would have liked acknowledgement of the hero’s complex afterlife, not least to test more of young Dalgleish’s emotional range. But what he gave us was terrific. We’ll see more of him.

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rating Four  4 Meece Rating


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