Noël Coward Theatre: closes 2nd September 2017
I have a habit of wanting to see a particular show from the moment it opens, but only getting round to seeing it in its final weeks when I know that I won’t have another opportunity see it again. I end up completely falling in love with it, and forever regretting that I hadn’t made time to see it earlier. It happened with Bend It Like Beckham, In The Heights, and now Half A Sixpence.
Despite not knowing a lot about the show, I knew that I was going to absolutely love it from the moment I watched the trailers for its opening at Chichester Festival Theatre, prior to its West End transfer in October 2016. The clips from the infectious song ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ that are used in the trailers make it clear that the show is fabulously British and can be added to the ever growing list of recent musical revivals that pay tribute to the classic British musical. The costumes; acting; songs and dancing in the trailer completely sold it for me in under one minute, so you can imagine how excited I was when I finally got round to seeing the show!
As with Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Mary Poppins, the staged musical of Half A Sixpence is closer to the semi-autobiographical H. G Wells novel ‘Kipps’, first published in 1905, than it is to the original film starring Tommy Steele. The story has been cleverly re-dramatised by Julian Fellowes, who as I have mentioned in previous reviews, has a wonderful way of re-imaging already existing stories so that they are completely fresh and contemporary, without losing any of the traditional and timeless aspects that made them so enjoyable in the first place. The show includes music from the 1967 film, as well as new music from composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who are fast becoming names that I associate with great musical revivals, such as Mary Poppins and Wind in the Willows.
Half A Sixpence follows a draper’s assistant named Arthur Kipps who suddenly falls into a large sum of money, leading him away from his home and the people in it, into a new lifestyle of wealth and the upper class, including access to ‘perfect’ Helen, whom he begins to realise may not be his perfect girl after all. All too soon the reality of the situation hits home and Kipps finds himself having to choose between two very different lifestyles.
The simple yet charming story is told through some of the most infectious, toe tapping songs I have ever heard, my favourites included ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’, and ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ both of which received responses from the audience that were comparable with the applause at the end of the show. The buzz had the atmosphere of an opening night; I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of such an enthusiastic audience.
I was also lucky enough to see second cover David Birch for his debut performance as Arthur Kipps. It was difficult to believe that this was his first performance in character; the energy he brought to the show was contagious and worked very well with the nature of the story and the other characters at his side, such as Devon- Elise Johnson who played Ann- his childhood sweet heart; a very likeable character who I found myself wanting the best for. Another female lead was Helen, played by Emma Williams, who I was very excited to be seeing live for the first time. I instantly warmed to Helen’s kind heart and good natured personality in the first act, however as the show continued I found myself preferring Ann. One of my favourite characters was Lady Punnet, played by Jane How. Lady Punnet was a character who at first I wasn’t too keen on, but her hilarity very quickly changed that. I particularly enjoyed watching her during ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’.
I absolutely loved how traditional this show was; I just wanted to soak up the old-worldliness. I genuinely could have forgotten that outside of the theatre it was the 21st century. If you are in London before September 2nd and the thought of a charming British musical is appealing to you, then I strongly recommend seeing Half A Sixpence.