It’s receiving rave reviews, with Charlie Stemp’s portrayal of Arthur Kipps being praised by critics everywhere.
Based on the semi-autobiographical novel Kipps by HG Wells, Half a Sixpence tells the tale of apprentice draper Arthur. As a young man he leaves his childhood home to work, giving his childhood sweetheart, Ann, half a sixpence to remember him by. Fast forward to the present day, Arthur hasn’t been home to visit much and has become quite taken with Miss Helen Walsingham, a customer at the shop.
When Arthur is knocked over by Mr Chitterlow, an eccentric playwright and former actor who reveals to him that he’s the heir to a fortune, Arthur is soon rubbing shoulders with the richer folks in town, and while it allows him to get closer to Helen it also puts him on a different path, and it isn’t one he’s sure he likes.
This version of Half a Sixpence has been several years in the making, with Cameron McIntosh wanting to revisit the musical nine years ago with Julian Fellows doing the writing, and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe to creating a new score using a mix of new ideas and the original music by David Heneker. However, they had to wait until the rights became available (and of course, for Mr Fellows to finish working on some TV show called Downton Abbey), meaning work didn’t start on it until 2015.
This performance is full of energy, it’s a proper feel-good musical and you won’t be able to help but smile. While I can’t disagree with the critics that Stemp is brilliant, I really do feel that this is a true ensemble show where no individual completely overshadows or outshines another.
For me, the most impressive parts were the choreography and dance sequences – the first song in the draper’s shop, Look Alive, shows this perfectly, as you have the five draper’s apprentices dancing round the stage and the customers, jumping on and off the desk, and throwing roles of cloth around. Every step is perfect, and similar routines feature throughout the performance, each one performed with the same precision. Another feature I particularly liked was the stage, which was made up of moving circular walkways which were used to great effect throughout the performance.
Half a Sixpence isn’t a show to go and watch if you want something intriguing as the story is a little obvious, but it really doesn’t matter because the show doesn’t try and pretend to be anything other than a light heated comedy musical.
It is also rather refreshing to have love interests who are both really genuine people – on the one hand there is Ann, the childhood sweetheart who knows Arthur inside out, and on the other Helen, a well-educated woman who encourages Arthur to believe in himself and wants to help navigate this new life that has been thrust upon him.
At the interval I wasn’t wholly sure who I was supposed to be rooting for (and in an effort to remain spoiler free I won’t divulge the ending, but will say I think overall I wanted him to end up with the other one).
My only other niggle was that I didn’t realise Ann was the sister of Arthur’s fellow apprentice draper Sid until it was mentioned in the second act – the only other time it was mentioned is right at the very beginning in a flashback scene showing the moments before Arthur leaves. I think perhaps it needed to be weaved into the story a bit more throughout the play – prior to this revelation we see the apprentices plus Ann at the seaside, and I was confused as to how she could have known them.
Those small niggles aside Half a Sixpence is well worth the trip, the energy from the performers reverberates around the theatre, and the talent of each and every one of them is truly extraordinary.