Interview: The Cast of Half A Sixpence

Last week, a number of bloggers got to go behind the scenes at Half A Sixpence. We got banjo lessons, dance lessons and were even treated to a backstage tour. You can read all about that (and my amazing dancing) in my Blogger’s Night feature.

We were also lucky enough to have a Q&A with Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps), Emma Williams (Helen), Bethany Huckle (Flo), and Sam O’Rouke (Buggins). Sharing their favourite moments from the show, we got a glimpse into life at Half A Sixpence. Turns out it’s some offstage biscuit breaks, some (deliberately) off-key singing, and mishaps which don’t always happen offstage…

Half a Sixpence. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

Are there any fun behind the scenes mishaps?

Charlie: Always!

Sam: We’ve had mishaps on the scenes! Not behind the scenes! The motor bike crash is the one that jumps out in my memory

Charlie: So we’re in Chichester, and our lovely bar turns into a pub. And it’s the end of the show and I’m waving everyone off on the motorcycle, ‘Yay!’ I’m driving along and I clip one of the stools, one of the bar stools. And the bar stool shoots straight under the motorbike, straight into the spoke

Sam: You didn’t clip it…

Beth: You battered it!

Charlie: I just remember going, ‘Oh…what was that noise?’ And it caught in between the door and the spokes of the bike. So I was stuck. But in my brain I went, ‘Power!’ I revved the engine and just got stuck more! And the whole time, everyone in the theatre on stage is waving at me still!

Sam: The stage direction is for him to exit offstage centre. And in our mind’s eye, the bike goes round and you can’t see the bike, of course, as we wave him off into the distance. And half the cast turned to continue waving him off, while a quarter of the cast were still waving at the door, while the other quarter got hold of the bike and were trying to get them out of there! That’s an on stage mishap!

Bethany: I remember the one in Chichester when the revolves didn’t work for ‘Look Alive’.

Emma: Everyone’s just walking awkwardly! [Mimes shuffling movement]

Charlie: That was a great moment, because everyone just went, ‘Okay…let’s blag it! Let’s do it!’

Bethany: Some people moving the bar, some people going, ‘Should we stay still?’

Helen: The set up is there’s the revolve where people stand still and do poses [as it moves]. So you had people standing there just going, ‘Nothing but the finest, all that you desire!’ And no one knows where they’re supposed to be!

Charlie: Or bits of set that normally everyone shares in that number, everyone was just going, ‘Nope! That’s mine! Don’t take it, it’s mine!’

Sam: The thing that sticks out in my memory in that situation was all the shoppers still being calm and collective. They’re sort of shifting round on the revolve. All the apprentices are absolutely frantically trying to yank this bar around the stage! And then the icing, the cherry on the cake for me was Graham our MD. You’ll know that the orchestra are up there [above the stage], and Graham conducts it from the middle. And as we were all panicking and the adrenaline’s pumping and we’re yanking this bar going, ‘Oh my god! You’re going to have the show stop! What are we going to do? How are we going to do this? How are we going to do that?’ I just heard this, ‘Ha, ha, ha, ha!’

The cast of Half A Sixpence. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

What are your favourite numbers in the show?

Emma: I love ‘Pick out a Simple Tune’, because it’s the only real big dance number that I get to do in the show. I’m getting changed when you guys do ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’. We’re always listening to that and going, ‘Oh god, I wish I was part of that!’ And then actually going, ‘I’m having a coffee and a biscuit. I’m very happy!’ But I love ‘Pick out a Simple Tune’, it’s so crazy and it gets progressively crazier! And that’s the joy of it. And Andrew Wright’s choreography is so intricate that there’s a madness. When it’s going mad on stage, it’s really infectious among the cast, you can really feel it between everyone and I love that.

Bethany: I would have to say ‘A Little Touch of Happiness’, it’s really fun! And I get to do it with Devon[-Elise Johnson, Ann], which is extra fun because she’s one of my best mates. It’s nice, we don’t really have to act! Because you just smile and skip around on stage saying naughty innuendos!

Charlie: That’s a tough one for me really… it depends, different days have different things really.

Sam: Depends how lazy you’re feeling!

Charlie: Ha, no, no no! When I enjoy the dance, I think ‘If the Rain’s Got to Fall’, that’s a really good one if I’m feeling in a good dance mood. But if I’m in a singing mood, ‘In the Middle There’s Me’ with the boys. It’s always something that I found very hard. So I always enjoy it, because I realise how much hard work we put into that, so that’s always fun. And then ‘Pick out a Simple Tune’.

Sam: Mine’s probably ‘In the Middle There’s Me’, for the opposite reason of Emma. The majority of the numbers that you do as an apprentice (whilst we have lovely scenes as well, the big song and dance numbers), there’s the bit in the middle of Act Two where the four of us boys just get to sit and chill out and sing the song. And just enjoy being in the moment.

Charlie: It’s just about the music, isn’t it?

Sam: Yes, it’s nice.

Emma: That’s the one we sing along to in our dressing room, when we’re getting changed for the final scene. We sing along with it, we do a really nasty harmony at the end!

Charlie: Why?!

Emma: Just to make it sound less beautiful! We do a really crunchy harmony.

Sam: Can’t you do a nice harmony?

Emma: We deliberately sing it out of tune, because you guys sound so lovely. ‘Meeeeee!’

Sam: [When you all watch it] you’ll also be thinking, ‘Look at those four lazy sods! Just happy not to be dancing!’

Emma: Did you not hear…Andrew’s going to make it a big number!

Half a Sixpence. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

If you guys had money to burn, what’s the one thing you would buy?

Sam: Nice…more money?

Me: It’s not a genie wish!

Sam: Mine would probably be…it’s a bit of a rubbish answer! It would be a car. I’m not even a massive car fan, but being down in London, one of the things that I miss the most is having the freedom of a car and driving around. I’m still insured back home, but I just can’t justify having one in London.

Charlie: I haven’t even got a license!

Sam: But if I had money to burn, a nice little DB9 in the drive just to take down to the shops when I wanted, that would be nice.

Charlie: I’d have some nice grass for my garden. I bought grass seed…and it still ain’t working! I’m fuming! No, I’d buy a car for my Mum.

Bethany: If I had money to burn, I’d buy a really nice apartment in Covent Garden. Go out, see a couple of street performers, just go and chill out.

Sam: [to Charlie] We didn’t think this through, did we? If I’d known we could have had houses…campervan, boom!

Emma: I would pay off all my family’s mortgages.

Charlie: You’re so responsible!

Emma: I’ve got eleven years on it, there’s a reason!

Charlie Stemp and the cast of Half a Sixpence. Photo by Manuel Harlan

If you weren’t in this show, what would be your dream role?

Sam: I always find that a really hard question to answer, because in this show we’ve all been blessed with one of the most amazing experiences as an actor, which is creating a role yourself. They’re all original parts that we’ve got to put our own stamp on. And whatever capacity Half A Sixpence exists in in the future, there will be a part of us in those parts and that’s the most exciting thing. So to say, ‘What is your dream role?’ It’s hard, because…

Bethany: It might not have been written yet.

Sam: Yes, the most exciting thing is doing one that’s not necessarily been written.

Charlie: …Bert, Mary Poppins! Always, ever since I was a kid. i used to break my Mum’s brooms putting them up the chimney!

Bethany: Of course you did!

Charlie: As a kid, I always enjoyed it. It’s interesting, our producer owns the rights for Mary Poppins. So every time I see him, I’m like ‘Mmmhmm!’ In fact, I went to see my friend in it in Manchester and I went on the stage with a broom and sent him the picture!

Beth: Of course you did! I don’t know…I’d say over the next five years, because I’m a bit too young at the moment. But if ever I had to be ambitious, probably Glinda from Wicked. That’s a big role, but I like scary!

Helen: I’ve been really fortunate, almost all of my career has been in shows as the first cast. And it does spoil you, because you’re so used to being asked to create. Like if I went into something where stuff existed, I’d probably go really old school…like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady which I did when I was sixteen. And Anna from The King And I, which I did when I was seventeen. So those are roles that I played as a kid that I’d really like to do now that I vaguely know a little more about acting and definitely a lot more about how to sing!

Beth: Maybe more dance, it’s nice to do something like that. I went to go and see Thoroughly Modern Millie ages ago in Edinburgh, and it was incredible to see a six minute dance number full out! Sam and I last year, we did Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and literally it was a six minute barn dances, everything! And even though it was a killer, it was actually quite nice to dance and just do that side of things as well as sing. You’ve got to challenge yourself in that way too.

Half A Sixpence plays at the Noel Coward Theatre. Additional matinees have been and booking is open through to 2nd September 2017. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Half A Sixpence website.



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