Need a story reworked, that explores Edwardian Britain and tales of the social classes? Then you can’t find any better than Downton Abbey’s own Julian Fellowes. Throw in some musical geniuses with the likes of Stiles and Drewe and man with a buck – Cameron Mackintosh, and you’ve got yourself the makings of one heck of a musical spectacular.
Now with great foundations, you need a dazzling cast and Charlie Stemp is the just the man to lead this sensational production in the role of Arthur Kipps in H.G.Wells’s Half a Sixpence. The creative team, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh have brought to life this 1960s musical based on the autobiographical novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul and launched it at Chichester’s Festival Theatre.
Kipps is a hard working draper’s assistant in the seaside town of Folkestone. Brought up by his aunt and uncle, he is an honest lad and never wanted for anything – perhaps just a new banjo – but when he unexpectedly inherits a fortune from his grandfather, he finds himself thrust into the limelight of the upper classes.
He’s just a simple boy with simple tastes and though Kipps tries to stay true to himself, he gets caught up in the whirlwind of tailored suits, flowing champagne and musical evenings. However, Kipps will never belong and though his high society fiancé Helen (Emma Williams) tries to help him through, his true love lies with childhood sweetheart Ann (Devon-Elise Johnson).
With heaps of fizz and oodles of Oom-pah-pah, you’ll feel like you’ve spent two and half hours in Mary Poppins chalk drawing and leave smiling with pure delight. Paul Brown’s set even revolves like a carousel and everything is lit in sugary, candy hues. The view is charming and beams with warmth and sweetness.
Stiles and Drewe have injected some terrific toe-tapping melodies, many resembling a right ol’ cockney knees up and a nod to the era. An absolute highlight is ‘Pick Out a Simple Tune’ as Kipps leads a musical evening with Folkestone’s finest. By the end, with just the strum of his banjo, he’s joined by a roaring chorus teamed with Andrew Wright’s high energy choreography and the cast truly shine, tempting you to jump to your feet.
The knockout star is Charlie Stemp, who’s a relative newcomer and whose contagious grin makes him undeniably lovable. Stemp is barely off the stage the entire show and completely carries this production with buckets full of charisma and flair. He has phenomenal support from Williams and Johnson, who share an exceptional vocal talent as the two love interests for Kipps. All-in-all this cast are remarkably strong and contribute to making Half a Sixpence a refreshing and joyful revival.
What a triumph!
(Photo courtesy of Manuel-Harlan)