Based off writer H.G. Wells’ Kipps: The Story of A Simple Soul, Half A Sixpence adapts the 1967 British musical film of the same name and follows the story of Arthur Kipps – a young orphan from Kent who unexpectedly comes into wealth. The tale takes on a Victorian twist, and Kipps must choose between two women – the upper class Helen Walsingham who he falls head over heels with, or his childhood sweetheart Ann, who he made a promise to years ago.
Playing Kipps is Charlie Stemp, who shows off his remarkable dance skills and ineffable appeal throughout the performance. It’s amazing how he is literally in every scene and keeps up the fervent, seemingly endless energy that bursts forth from his entire body, proving himself a triple threat as he dances, sings and even plays his signature banjo while charming the socks off everyone else around him.
A good lead is nothing without equally amazing co-stars though. Playing rivals for Kipps’ affections are Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann and Emma Williams as the Lady Helen Walsingham, both of whom possess spectacular vocals, each getting their turn to shine. This was also a rare instance in which I was genuinely rooting for both leads and couldn’t actually predict the final outcome of the musical as to who Kipps would end up choosing, as both women proved themselves equally worthy of Kipps and formidable dames with minds of their own. Finally, playing Helen’s scheming mother Mrs Walsingham is Vivien Parry, who brought the air of a dragon lady whenever she appeared onstage, who’d stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Half A Sixpence’s unnamed co-star are its costumes, which range from the humble blue-collar attire of the tailors, to the grand suits and dresses of the upper class. Kipps’ wardrobe in particular should be highlighted, as it never occurred to me how many garish suits could possibly exist in a single production (but of course, they worked perfectly for his character finding himself a fish out of water in the world of the aristocrats.)
If there is one fault with Half A Sixpence, it is that it hardly leaves any breathing room in between Andrew Wright’s frenetically choreographed dance numbers, each one a spectacle in itself with one of the hardest working ensembles around, leaping joyously into action in every scene. But that can hardly be considered a fault when each song leaves you only with a beaming grin from ear to ear. It’s hard to pinpoint a single song that truly stands out, as each one has its own merits, from the infectious “Pick Out A Simple Tune” to closing number “Flash Bang Wallop”, which is absolutely dizzying (and dazzling) to watch with its frantic collection of poses and pyrotechnics.
Half A Sixpence is proof that the Victorian play is well and alive, and such fun too, reliant not just on snarky lines to bring the laughs but also capable of huge, well-choreographed numbers that stretch performers to their limits dancing in well-coiffed suits and voluminous dresses. If you’re in need of big hats and snooty Victorians letting loose this winter, this is one musical that will definitely have you cheering every step of the way.
Half A Sixpence plays at the Noel Coward Theatre, London till 11 February. Tickets available here