“Why do you have a pen and notebook?”, my thirteen year old niece enquired as we waited for the show to start. I explained that I was writing a review. “The seats are comfortable,” she advised, “the smartly dressed people”, (the front of house assistants), “are very nice and I have a good view of the stage”. So far, so good then.
The Chichester Festival Theatre transfer of Half a Sixpence is a revised version of the David Henker original with a new writing team assembled by Cameron Mackintosh. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have written a new score, incorporating and adapting material from the original. Julian Fellowes has returned to H. G. Wells’ semi-autobiographical 1905 novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul to re-work the book.
Julian Fellowes has a solid track record of creating very accessible and mass market product and this show definitely fits into this category. I did find myself wanting for more depth and subtlety in the characters and the plotting. There are no real surprises here. It’s fairly obvious how everything will develop and at nearly three hours long, this can be a little monotonous.
However, it is a Rolly-Royce of a production with plenty of sparkle and razzmatazz. Rachel Kavanaugh’s effective staging keeps the pace racing along and there are some great musical performances in a talented and energetic cast.
Andrew Wright’s choreography is a highlight. He often utilises the simplest theatrical elements to create a broad range of exciting stage pictures. I particularly enjoyed Money to Burn where one inventive sequence used pillows and coats to great effect.
The original show was written as a vehicle for British pop star Tommy Steele. This production may just reverse this conceit and make a star of relative newcomer Charlie Stemp. He’s whirlwind of a performance as lead character Arthur Kipps showcases his breathtaking dance energy and skill, only slightly overshadowing the rest of his performance which at times feels too heightened. Having said that, his performance does fit perfectly into the overall production style and he rightly received a very enthusiastic standing ovation.
With some judicious editing and a bit more depth injected into the proceedings, this could be a really tight and rewarding show. It is, however, a really good old fashioned musical entertainment and a perfect theatrical treat for any niece to see.
- At the Noël Coward Theatre currently booking to 11 February 2017. Box office: +44 (0) 844 482 5140