Review: Half a Sixpence (Noël Coward Theatre) *****

‘It’s not the steps you take; it’s the path you choose’. That may be true as one character says, but you can’t help but admire the steps taken in this new adaptation which reunites George Stiles, Anthony Drewe and Julian Fellowes. With new songs and stunning choreography, Half a Sixpence really does have a new spring in its step, quite literally!

When Arthur Kipps comes into money, he finds himself flung into a world of riches and garden parties. It’s a far cry from his broken banjo and days in the meadow with Ann. Soon, Arthur finds himself caught in the middle of two worlds and two women. But who wants half a sixpence when you’ve got a fortune? Or is it rather who wants a fortune when you’ve got half a sixpence…?

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The cast of Half a Sixpence. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Andrew Wright’s choreography will have you clap hands, stamp your feet and even jump out of your seat during ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’. I would be surprised if this doesn’t get standing ovations during the run. Wright brings the show to new heights with his choreography, which leaps and bounds off the stage. The energy in the group numbers is infectious, thanks to an impressive ensemble coupled with new music from Stiles and Drewe.

With a rewritten score and additional songs, these blend seamlessly with the original numbers. So much so in fact, that I thought ‘Pick Out a Simple Tune’ was one from the original score. Indeed Stiles and Drewe pick out a number of simple tunes, which reprise throughout with the banjo numbers a big crowd-pleaser (apparently they’re all the rage in London!) ‘Back the Right Horse’ is meta, fun but a tad mediocre (it’s been done before and better). But then again, ‘critics’ will say anything! Considering how reworked the story is, the other issue is the handling of Helen. A more likable version than her original counterpart, her fate is realistic but grim. It’s like watching Oliver! then reading the book: a Dickensian dick move. That being said, the women shine in this adaptation; I struggle to think of another musical this year where the majority of supporting roles are as well written and well distributed to female performers.

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Charlie Stemp as Kipps. Photo by Manuel Harlan
Charlie Stemp takes big steps as Kipps, leading the cast in what is only his third appearance on a West End stage. ‘There’s so much love in me’, Kipps comments. And there’s so much love and joy in the show too, because of Stemp. With a permanent grin fixed on his face, Stemp is larger than life, light on his feet with some incredible tap routines, and loving every moment.

Childhood sweetheart Ann is played by Devon-Elise Johnson, with a mischievous and joyful glint in her eye. Emma Williams is composed and controlled as Helen, making those moments she reveals her true feelings and last lines all the more sad. Williams gets to play for laughs though; her and Stemps’ ‘Just a Few Little Things’ is great fun, an inverted ‘Rain in Spain’. Vivien Parry makes a memorable turn as her even more controlling mother, and Bethany Huckle is one to watch as Flo. Her and Johnsons’ performance of a ‘Little Touch of Happiness’ is pitch perfect and hilarious.

All singing, all dancing and some banjos, this is better than any garden party! Flash your bank card, bang your piggy bank, and wallop it open to come see this show!

 

Half a Sixpence is booking until the 11th February 2017, playing at the Noël Coward Theatre. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Half a Sixpence website.

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