Friday, 21 April 2017

Ryan O'Donnell of Sunny Afternoon | Interview

Sunny Afternoon, the Olivier award-winning jukebox musical based on the life and music of The Kinks, has been touring the UK since August after a successful run in London. I've seen the show twice before (you can find my review of the London production here and the touring show here) so I was thrilled when it was announced that the tour would be stopping off in my home town of Wolverhampton. I met up with frontman Ryan O'Donnell, who plays Ray, to chat about life on the road and developing the role over time.

As a non-actor, the intricacies of a touring show are a mystery to me. Having previously played venues all over the world with the band Jethro Tull, one of Ryan's favourite things about touring is the variation in audiences.

"In London you have a fairly similar audience every night but touring the UK means you get to bring the show to the people. They'll come along because they've heard of The Kinks but it means they get to experience the theatre too". It's also interesting how different audiences around the world can be - he recalls that on the opening night of the tour in Manchester, a single joke received a standing ovation whereas, when he played in Japan with Jethro Tull, the audience was much more restrained. Having been travelling the country since August though, Ryan admits he's missing his home comforts.

"On tour, you only have one pair of shoes and a few shirts to to choose from everyday because you're living out of a suitcase" so he's planning to make the most of his time at home after the tour closes in Plymouth in a few weeks. When I asked if he has a favourite city that the show has visited, he was quick to answer.

"Definitely Cardiff. It's a beautiful venue and the audiences were fantastic, especially on the Saturday night. It was electric". Although I'm studying in Cardiff, I didn't manage to see the show while it was there but I had to agree that the Millennium Centre is a gorgeous theatre.

Ryan first joined the Sunny Afternoon cast in London understudying both Ray and Dave, and he explained how the his characterisation of the role has developed since taking over the role of Ray full time:

"As an understudy there's an element of copying - you don't want to do anything drastically different from normal as the other actors won't be expecting it," something that from an audience perspective had never really crossed my mind. "When playing any role, there's an element of bringing yourself into the character and with Ray I get to find anger and elements of myself that I wouldn't normally show." He recalls being told by the director more than once "you're not being enough of a shit" to be Ray, and he also loves that playing live every night has given him the chance to develop his musical skills.

One of the most interesting things about Ryan is how varied his career has been. As I mentioned earlier, he's toured with the band Jethro Tull, played Jimmy in the UK tour of Quadrophenia (a rock opera based on The Who album of the same name) and has even worked at the RSC. When I asked if he had a dream theatre role in mind, he couldn't think of anything in particular.

"This role has been such a good challenge as Ray's such an interesting character and I'm on stage for almost the whole show so whatever I do next needs to be equally as challenging for me". I admire his honesty for admitting that he doesn't plan on going back to being an understudy.

Chatting to Ryan was such a pleasure. He's a genuinely talented and friendly guy, and I can't wait to see what he gets up to in the future - once he's had chance to recover from the tour of course! I'm seeing the show in Wolverhampton tonight (it sticks around here until Saturday night, for which there's still a few tickets left) before it moves on to Belfast and then Plymouth at the start of May and you can check out the Sunny Afternoon website for more details and tickets.


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