After a successful run at the Chichester Festival Theatre, this new stage version written by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, in collaboration with the musical team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, transfers to the West End and is bound to become a smash hit.
Half a Sixpence is the musical adaptation of H.G. Wells’s semi-autobiographical novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul and was originally written with Tommy Steele in mind for the leading role, opening in the West End in 1963, with songs by David Heneker, many of which still remain in the new production, such as the show-stopping “Flash Bang Wallop“, “Money to Burn” and “Half A Sixpence“. Julian Fellowes has rewritten the book, which was one of the weakest elements of the 1963 production, and Stiles and Drewe have added some new songs, including the second-half show-stopper “Pick Out a Simple Tune“, which starts off with Kipps playing his banjo at a musical soirée and ends with the stiff high society on their feet singing and dancing, one even swinging from a chandelier.
Arthur Kipps (Charlie Stemp), an illegitimate orphan, is raised by his aunt (Annie Wensak) and uncle (David Burrows) who keep a little shop in New Romney, Kent. Arthur gives his childhood sweetheart Ann Pornick (Devon-Elise Johnson) half a sixpence as a token of their love when at the age of fourteen he is apprenticed to the Folkestone Drapery Bazaar, run by the stern Mr. Shalford (John Conroy). Once in Folkestone, Kipps forgets Ann and becomes infatuated with the posh Helen Walshingham (Emma Williams). When Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew), an actor, impresario, and aspiring playwright, runs into Kipps with his bicycle, they become fast friends and Chitterlow informs Kipps of a newspaper advertisement that leads to an unsuspected inheritance for Kipps of a house and £26,000. Helen’s mother Mrs Walshingham (Vivien Parry) suddenly regards Arthur as a suitable husband for her daughter and they become engaged, with Arthur hiring Helen’s brother James (Gerard Carey) as a financial adviser and agreeing to finance the rebuilding of the family estate. But Arthur feels out of his depth in Helen’s circles, eating foreign food and attending musical soirées. When he meets Ann again, who is now working as a maid in one of the grand houses, he is torn between his rekindled love for Ann and his admiration for Helen.
The show focuses on Arthur Kipps and Charlie Stemp plays the endearing chap with great enthusiasm, whirling and leaping across the stage, yet his two love interests Helen and Ann, though sympathetically written, remain two-dimensional at best. The storyline of this musical is rather predictable and has many parallels to the classic Me and My Girl. Without being familiar with the novel or the original musical, I knew right from the start and with the introduction of each new character what was going to happen. The book follows a well-known formula, which, in my opinion prevents this show from being truly great instead of just good entertainment.
However, for the nostalgically minded, Rachel Kavanaugh‘s production is pure eye candy with a rousing musical score, including two show-stoppers, Andrew Wright‘s stunning choreography, an outstanding cast, and Paul Brown‘s beautiful production design.
A fun evening out. 4/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin
Half a Sixpence will be shown until 11th February 2017 at the Noël Coward Theatre. For tickets and more information on the production, visit here…