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5-star Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre

HALF A SIXPENCE Charlie Stemp 'Arthur Kipps'. Photo by Manuel Harlan
HALF A SIXPENCE Charlie Stemp ‘Arthur Kipps’. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Hand on heart now, how many of you reading this right now, play a Lottery game in some form or another? And how many of you players do so because of the money the various organisations distribute to good causes throughout the length and breadth of the UK? Let’s be honest, we play the lottery to win the money and change our lives. However, maybe we should be careful what we wish for, because when a life is changed by money then all of the values that were held dear are looked at from a different perspective. Not sure if I’m talking through my hat here? Well get yourself down to the Noël Coward Theatre and go and see Cameron Mackintosh’s latest smash hit transfer from the Chichester Festival – Half A Sixpence.

Its 1904 and young Arthur Kipps (Charlie Stemp) and his best friend Ann Pornick (Devon-Elise Johnson) are playing. There is sadness in their games though as today, Arthur is leaving the town of New Romney and moving to Folkestone to become an apprentice at Mr Shalford’s (John Conroy) drapery shop. Before leaving, Kipps gives Ann half of a sixpence he has split in two so that they will always remember each other.

Jump forward seven years and Kipps is still working in the drapery shop with his friends and colleagues – Sid (Alex Hope), Pearce (Callum Train), Buggins (Sam O’Rourke) and Flo (Bethany Huckle) – making the best of their lowly status. Arthur has fallen for a customer, the beautiful Miss Helen Walsingham (Emma Williams) but accepts that the massive difference in their respective social positions means they will never be able to be more than apprentice and customer. Then one night, returning home, Kipps is almost run down by a green clad bicycle rider, one Mr Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew) who apologises profusely and then realises he has news for our hero that could change his life forever.

HALF A SIXPENCE Jane How 'Lady Punnet' & Vivien Parry 'Mrs Walsingham'. Photo by Manuel Harlan
HALF A SIXPENCE Jane How ‘Lady Punnet’ & Vivien Parry ‘Mrs Walsingham’. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Like many people, I can remember the film of Half a Sixpence and I have to be honest and say I really didn’t like it, so I was approaching this show with some trepidation. However, I needn’t have worried because Cameron Mackintosh has taken the original – based on a book by H G Wells – and using Julian Fellowes new book, along with songs by multi-award winning musical theatre writing partnership George Stiles and Anthony Drewe along with a few of the original songs, and produced an extremely slick, clever and entertaining show. I really liked the songs – and have pre-ordered the original cast recording straight after the show – and there are some absolute classics, including the wonderful duet between Flo and Ann, “A Little Touch of Happiness” which manages to brings the saucy seaside postcard to life in fine style. Also, keep an eye out for the barnstorming ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’ which is turned from just amazing to awesome by the actions of the photographer.

The story has been fleshed out and you get much more of an idea of the way that characters other than Arthur work. This is particularly true of Helen, who is a bit of a tragic figure, and who I ended up feeling really sorry for as she was trapped in a life that she had been bred for but was actually no longer able to sustain following the actions of her brother James (Gerard Garey). If you wanted to go into a real analysis of the story, then there are various questions raised such as can one ever escape from the social position one is brought up in? Does love conquer all? How has the class system lasted so long? Etc. Of course, just like the attendees at Lady Punnet’s (Jane How) musical evening, you could forget being all high-brow and just pick out a simple tune and enjoy a right good knees-up. Incidentally, this is the most fantastic scene of the show, where every aspect of Paul Brown’s Production Design and Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction combine perfectly with the superb cast to produce a musical theatre tour de force performance.

And talking of the cast, I am going to join the ranks of reviewers that have heaped praise on young Charlie Stemp who sparkles in the role of Arthur Kipps. If you’ve ever wondered what is meant in theatrical terms by the words ‘A triple threat’ then look no further than Charlie who acts, sings, dances and brings a superb sense of innocence and wonder – not to mention a truly endearing smile – into every aspect of his performance of young Kipps. On stage for a huge amount of time – apart from some rapid costume changes – Charlie’s energy and committed performance brought Arthur Kipps to life so that the audience travelled with him on his roller coaster journey through Folkestone life. The clapping and cheers that raised the roof when Charlie took his curtain call were so well deserved and something he is going to have to get used to in the future. However Half a Sixpence isn’t a one man show and the rest of the cast were all superb in portraying the highly class conscious, denizens of the post-Edwardian seaside town. My personal favourite being the lovely Ian Bartholomew as Actor, with a capital ‘A’ Chitterlow and his scenes with Arthur, such as the rather enchanting ‘The One Who’s Run Away’ were marvelous to witness.

So, to finish. Half a Sixpence is one of the best openings this year. It has all the elements needed to make a really successful musical theatre production but without a trace of cynicism. This is not a show that has been produced in a factory but instead, it is a carefully researched and written show that stays faithful to the original story whilst being an awesome production in its own right. Beautifully written, wonderfully produced and superbly presented by a truly multi-talented cast, Half a Sixpence is everything that superb musical theatre should be.

5 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Following rave reviews and a record-breaking run in Chichester, Cameron Mackintosh is delighted to announce the West End transfer of the critically acclaimed hit musical “HALF A SIXPENCE” -which he co-produced with Chichester Festival Theatre – introducing the sensational new star Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps.

This new stage version of “HALF A SIXPENCE”, the musical adaptation of H.G. Wells’s semi- autobiographical novel ‘Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul’, is a completely fresh adaptation which reunites book-writer Julian Fellowes (Oscar-winning screenwriter and creator of Downton Abbey) with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the musical team that co-creator Cameron Mackintosh first put together to create the hit stage adaptation of “Mary Poppins” with Disney. The score is inspired by and features several of composer David Heneker’s exhilarating songs from the original production, including ‘Flash Bang Wallop’, ‘Money To Burn’ and ‘Half A Sixpence’.

Half a Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre
85-88 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU

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