One of my favourite film musicals is Half a Sixpence. Many a rainy Sunday growing up was spent watching it, and I had a definite soft spot for Tommy Steele, so I was very excited to see this latest staging which had transferred to London from the renowned Chichester Festival Theatre.
In creating this new production, the writers revisited the original HG Wells novel, Kipps, on which the show was based. This allowed them develop some of the characters further, and add new songs, adding depth to the show without losing its charm.
A massively hard working and talented cast work exceptionally well together to bring the story to life. In the big set pieces such as early number Look Alive, and old favourite Flash Bang Wallop, the lively and complex choreography is deftly delivered and joyous to behold. There is so much detail built in to the set pieces it could easily take multiple viewings, with each cast member really individualising their characters. In fact the only down side to this is the stage at the Noel Coward feels a little too small for such a lively, detailed and exuberant production. I would love to see it somewhere bigger like the Crucible in Sheffield.
The clever set quickly and effectively transforms into the various settings of the production, with extremely skilful but unobtrusive use of back projection blending seamlessly into the 'physical' set.
Of an excellent ensemble, Bethany Huckle, as Flo, particularly shone with a comedic and warm hearted portrayal. Devon-Elise Johnson, was wonderful as Ann, but I did feel her character had room to be developed a little more in the writing.
Taking on the lead role of Arthur Kipps was the simply amazing relative newcomer Charlie Stemp. In the programme his biography was tiny compared to every other cast member, but his talent was huge. So athletic and energetic in the big numbers, a layered and engaging characterisation, incredible timing and a fantastic voice. He reminded me a little of Lee Evans in a way, which I know is a bit of a strange comparison. The posters had used phrases like 'a star is born' and it really was deserved here. An absolute privilege to witness this star turn from start to finish, yet he never overshadowed the production as a whole.
I would defy anyone not to have a smile on their face and a 'simple tune' in their heart after watching this joyful production, with a final hurrah ending that had the whole audience on their feet clapping and dancing along. Just wonderful stuff, and dare I say it, much better than my beloved film (sorry Tommy!)