When I went: 23 January 2017
Location: Noel Coward Theatre, London
Performers: Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps), Ian Bartholomew (Chitterlow), Devon-Elise Johnson (Ann Pornick), Emma Williams (Helen Walsingham), Vivien Parry (Mrs Walsingham), Jane How (Lady Punnet), Gerard Carey (James Walsingham / Photographer), David Birch (Swing), Kimberly Blake (Mrs Bindo-Botting), David Burrows (Uncle Bert), Nick Butcher (Head Waiter), John Conroy (Shalford / Foster), Matthew Dale (Hayes), Jaye Juliette Elster (Mrs Wace), Tim Hodges (Mr Wace), Alex Hope (Sid Pornick), Bethany Huckle (Flo), Rebecca Jayne Davies (Mary), Jennifer Louise Jones (Miss Ross), Philip Marriott (Policeman), Harry Morrison (Carshot / Maxwell), Sam O’Rourke (Buggins), Callum Train (Pierce), Lauren Varnham (Mildred), Annie Wensak (Aunt Susan / Lady Dacre)
Creative team: Julian Fellowes (book), George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (music and lyrics), Cameron Mackintosh (producer and co-creator), David Heneker (co-author of original musical and music and lyrics), Beverley Cross (co-author of original musical), Rachel Kavanaugh (director), Andrew Wright (choreographer), Paul Brown (production designer), Graham Hurman (musical supervisor and conductor)
Approximate price: £60
Special points: Dancing of Charlie Stemp
Best bit: Flash Bang Wallop
If I could change one thing: Better transitions into the songs
Half a Sixpence is a musical that calls to the past. It premiered in the 1960s and is set in the early 20th century. Its theme of the divisions between poor and rich elements of society, and the ways that money can change people and make them act in certain ways, are still relevant, but the way they are portrayed is classic.
The protagonist, Arthur Kipps, displays elements of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady in his attempts to fit in with ‘posh’ society, as well as the joy and earnestness of Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain. The camaraderie between the female characters of Ann and Flo, and the costumes, also recall elements of Mrs Henderson Presents and The Pajama Game. Certain attentions paid to the other characters in the book stop Half a Sixpence from relying entirely on tropes, such as the character of Helen Walsingham being more than simply a snobby, borderline evil rich girl – the audience is encouraged to sympathise with her as much as with Arthur. In addition, although Helen and Ann are love rivals in that they both want Arthur, the writing does not make this into a catfight and both of them are actually extremely accepting of Arthur’s fluctuating affections.
There are a few standout numbers in the music, such as Flash Bang Wallop, but overall the music and lyrics are solid rather than stunning, and the transitions into the songs often feel a little awkward. This isn’t a musical I would recommend for someone who doesn’t usually like musicals – it doesn’t have anything to differentiate it from the traditions of musical theatre, as more modern works like The Book of Mormon do, and the characters really do just burst into song every so often, with quite a few cheesy moments. However, if you are already a musical theatre fan, it is a pleasant and enjoyable show.
I had heard a lot about Charlie Stemp’s performance as Arthur Kipps, which is partly why I ended up going to see this musical. You can believe the hype, as he is very impressive. Lead actors in musicals do not tend to have the most difficult dancing parts, which are often left to the backing dancers, but he displayed his balletic prowess again and again and made it seem effortless, with his vocals never suffering. He will almost certainly go on to take more lead roles; I would like to see him in something like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The supporting cast were really good as well; I recognised Ian Bartholomew (Chitterlow) from his performance as Vivian Van Damm in Mrs Henderson Presents, which Emma Williams (Helen) also starred in as Maureen. Devon-Elise Johnson was endearing as Ann in a role which didn’t allow her to have much fun, apart from towards the end.
The best numbers were the reprise of Money to Burn in the first half, and Flash Bang Wallop in the second, where the kitchen sink was thrown into the choreography without anything falling apart. The cast worked together seamlessly to pull these songs off and seemed to really enjoy themselves.