Half A Sixpence – 5 stars *****

5-charlie-stemp-as-arthur-kipps-in-chichester-festival-theatres-half-a-sixpence-photo-by-manuel-harlan-132Following rave reviews and a record-breaking run in Chichester, this exhilarating reworking of Half A Sixpence, deservedly transfers to London’s West End.

Based on H.G. Wells’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul’, Half A Sixpence tells the tale of Folkestone orphan Arthur Kipps, an over-worked draper’s assistant at the turn of the last century. Unexpectedly Kipps inherits a fortune that propels him into high society. His childhood sweetheart Ann Pornick, is understandably upset when Kipps gets engaged to the elegant and sophisticated Helen Walsingham, who tries to correct his common mannerisms and gives him a middle-class make over. As Arthur struggles to choose which of the women he should be involved with, he quickly learns that money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.

The latest stage revival of this cheerful 53-year-old class-conscious British musical is a completely fresh adaptation. It reunites Sir Cameron Mackintosh with the Tony-nominated book-writer Julian Fellowes and British song-writing duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who were  the creative team responsible for the hit stage metamorphosis of Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins.’ The score features several of the original 1963 David Heneker songs including ‘Flash Bang Wallop’, ‘Money To Burn’ and ‘Half A Sixpence,’ along with seven equally worthy additions by Stiles and Drewe.

This show literally pulsates with energy throughout and is led 22 year old Charlie Stemp, who is instantly likeable as the chirpy Kipps. Stemp has a smile big enough to light up the whole auditorium, and along with a lovely singing voice he leaps athletically through his numbers like a young gazelle. He is well matched with Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann and Emma Williams as Helen. Due to Rachel Kavanaugh’s slick direction and Andrew Wright’s spirited choreography, the whole thing moves at a lively pace. With outstanding production values, Paul Brown’s designs beautifully capture the seaside at Folkestone, circa 1911. Orchestra conductor Graham Hurman gives the big numbers all the necessary punch this piece demands, and in the second act Stiles and Drewe’s toe tapping ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune,’ easily matches Heneker’s famous roof-raising song ‘Flash Bang Wallop.’

This is the happiest show in town, and a guaranteed antidote for the winter blues. Grab a ticket while you can.

by Oliver Valentine.

We have tickets from £16 http://www.theatreperform.entstix.com/tickets/half-a-sixpence

HALF A SIXPENCE is booking until 11th February 2017.

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