Half a Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre
Cast Includes Charlie Stemp, Devon-Elise Johnson and Emma Williams
Running Time: 2 hours 40 mins inc. interval
Half A Sixpence has a long history – based on the semi-autobiographic work Kipps by HG Wells, it was originally created as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele. Its current incarnation has had a complete reworking, with a new book by Julian Fellowes and new musical material by Stiles and Drewe, but retains many of the original musical numbers that made the original a hit with a fresh orchestration and choreography that wows and delights.
You can see the work that has been done, and this is for the betterment of the piece – many of the supporting characters have become more three-dimensional and also have more to do, and gives more for Kipps’ love interests to do. Whilst the show really hinges on the portrayal of Kipps (nearly all of the musical numbers use him in some form), the piece now has more balance.
No review of the revival can be complete without mention of Charlie Stemp’s barnstorming performance as Arthur Kipps. He really is a phenomenon. Seemingly plucked from relatively from the ensemble, it is refreshing to see a leading man picked for his suitability, charisma, and talent rather than his ‘star’ status. He exudes energy and amazes in a demanding role that requires a lot of stamina and physicality, and he bundles this with a charm and brio that marks him a genuine highlight. Definitely, one to keep an eye on.
The supporting cast is also brilliant – Devon-Elise Johnson gives Ann, Kipps’ childhood sweetheart a real believability and in ‘Long Ago’ really draws a tear to the eye and showcases both her amazing voice and raw emotional power. Also of note is Emma Williams, who as Kipps’ other love interest gives Helen Walsingham a likeability and warmth to a role, though the book gives her character less to do in the second act bar complain at Kipps.
The only criticisms to be levelled at the piece are potentially at the surplus amount of musical numbers (which hint at its previous life as a vehicle to highlight Steele’s talents), especially in the first half, and there are some characters who add little to the plot and could have been merged together.
Summary: A high-energy revival of a classic with great musical numbers and in Charlie Stemp has a fresh and exciting new talent. Highly recommended for a care-free evening. ****