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Half a Sixpence (Susan Elkin reviews)

2492_1469578179Yes, it’s another Chichester triumph which will very soon be romping joyously into the West End. This comedy of social class and socialism, based on HG Wells novel Kipps, first saw the light of day in 1963, written by Beverley Cross and David Heneker for Tommy Steele who played Arthur Kipps. Now reworked with book refreshed by Julian Fellowes and lots of new Stiles and Drewe songs and lyrics, it’s deliciously fresh with a party scene as good as anything in My Fair Lady and echoes of both the Ascot and the drawing room scenes. Add to that the skilled direction of Rachel Kavanaugh, and Andrew Wright’s stunningly original choreography and you’re onto a sure fire winner.

Of course the evening, in many ways, belongs to Charlie Stemp as Arthur. A Laine-trained dancer he leaps ebulliently round the stage with mercurial athleticism and neat feet. He also makes Arthur by turns, rueful, earnest, troubled, joyful and eventually happy. Stemp has a fine singing voice both in solo work and in duets and other groups. He more than deserves the tumultuous applause he gets as he and Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann (also very good) dance off the stage – still fizzing with infectious energy even after the curtain call.
In the supporting roles, Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow is suitably flamboyant, Emma Williams sings beautifully as the ultimately jilted Helen and Jane How is fun as Lady Punnet. The ensemble work is exceptionally strong especially in the scene when they entertain each other musical interludes and Stemp opens Pick Out a Simple Tune on the banjo. And it’s all very ably supported by a terrific 12-piece band under Graham Hurman, positioned above the action.

Paul Brown’s designs are a key part of the success of this show too. The set is based on a revolving mock wrought iron arrangement which is a cross between a bandstand and a gasometer. Screens within it drop and lift to display or reveal different sets – a pub bar for example or the counter of the draper’s shop. It’s both imaginative and ingenious. And the sumptuous costumes – a lot of Edwardian white and delightful black and yellow for Lady Punnet’s party – add a lot.

There are some really memorable songs in this show, many of them rooted in tuneful, witty, music hall tradition. The fast, furious and funny Flash Bang Wallop is now the finale and is a theatrical roller coaster treat as you listen for the words of each verse and enjoy the way it hangs on the pause before it returns to the chorus. It is to this show what Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat is to Guys and Dolls.
You won’t find a show with much more feel good-factor than this. It ticks every box.

 Originally published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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