FLASH BAND WALLOP… WHAT A PRODUCTION!
HALF A SIXPENCE has become the latest ‘classic’ musical theatre show to enjoy a revival this year (all be it a new version of the David Heneker and Beverely Cross original written by Downtown Abbey supremo Julian Fellowes), all of which have provided a welcome break from the abundance of Jukebox musicals being produced over the past decade, and follows in the footsteps of other great shows making a resurgence on the West End and UK touring circuit, such as Gypsy, Funny Girl, Guys & Dolls, Show Boat and the upcoming Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The show is based on the H. G. Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul and follows the tale of Arthur Kipps (Charlie Stemp), a working class Sales Assistant in the local tailor shop in Folkestone, who lusts after the prim and proper upper class Lady Miss Helen Walsingham (Emma Williams) but knows he will never win her love because he is poor. When Kipps experiences a completely chance meeting with flamboyant actor Harry Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew) he is advised of a huge windfall left to him by his estranged grandfather, that is advertised in the local newspaper, and his world turns upside down. Kipps is catapulted into a life of refinery, garden parties and upper class conversation, but deep down he knows he is still the same working class ‘cheeky-chippy’ he always has been and quickly realises that being rich does not necessarily bring him happiness.
This production of HALF A SIXPENCE transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre from Chichester having received rave reviews, which preceded its highly anticipated arrival at this iconic venue in the heart of the West End. Having never had the opportunity to see a full live production of this show, I was excited by it’s reputation from Chichester as well as the fact that a relatively unknown actor was being given the opportunity to really make his career as the lead in this star vehicle production. I’m a huge advocate of giving unknown actors opportunities to make their mark and Charlie Stemp certainly makes one of the biggest marks I’ve ever witnessed. He really is the star of the show with a sweet and soaring singing voice, greatly honed acting skills that really show his dedication to his craft, and flawless dancing that he performed with such ease that he appeared to float through some of Andrew Wright’s high octane routines with more than a passing resemblance to the skills of legendary performer Fred Astaire. Stemp is certainly a rising star in the musical theatre world and we can expect to see more of him in the future.
The show, like most large scale productions, is not just about one performer though, and Stemp is extremely well supported by a very strong cast of triple (sometime quadruple) threat performers who are all highly skilled in each attribute. The catchy songs of Stiles & Drewe (none so much as the aptly named ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune‘) are fantastically sung and very well supported by the drilled live band led by Musical Supervisor and Conductor Graham Hurman.
Andrew Wright’s excellently slick and stylised choreography, which certainly builds throughout the show, is very well performed by all and, if anything, I’d have loved to see more of this exciting and outstanding dancing.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh has clearly worked exceedingly hard with all the cast to build the strong onstage relationships between the characters but also the individual personalities of each person to ensure we see a greatly believable and well fitted group of characters. Kavanaugh’s direction and creative vision for this production is extremely effective, with the use of a multi’revolving stage, a thoughtful and well-dressed set and just a hint of Downton-esque costume influence making the mise-en-scene a delight. Cameron Mackintosh has done it again and reminds us all that he clearly is the master of producing fantastic musical theatre feats which audiences just love, although no-one gave more resounding applause at the end than he did.
I would advise anyone and everyone to go and see HALF A SIXPENCE for a feel good, easy to watch and highly entertaining evening at the Theatre.
HALF A SIXPENCE
Until 11th February 2017
Noel Coward Theatre
0844 482 5140