Half a Sixpence - the new 'Flash, Bang Wallop' musical

Julian Fellowes, based on the novel Kipps: the story of a simple soul by H G Wells, new music and lyrics by George Stiles and Andrew Drewe.
Chichester Festival Theatre in Association with Cameron Mackintosh
Chichester Festival Theatre

Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps Credit: Manuel Harlan
Charlie Stemp at Arthur Kipps Credit: Manuel Harlan
Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow Credit: Manuel Harlan

Banjos are very much ‘in’ this year, at least in Chichester where the present Arthur Kipps is wowing the audience with this new version of Half a Sixpence.

Fellowes has re-worked the script, closely following Wells’s semi-autographical novel but fleshing out the characters a little more and injecting a lot of humour into the contrasts in social classes at the beginning of the 20th century with the ‘upper classes’ verging on caricaturisation and certainly stereotypical.

The working class mostly accept their place, they don’t have much choice, but Sid (Alex Hope) as a draper's assistant is strongly socialist and aware of the injustices, although it doesn’t do him any good—at least not here. Of the other assistants, apart from Kipps, Sam O’Rourke is notable as Buggins who loves his food and often oversleeps (it’s a wonder he keeps his job) and Bethany Huckle is pert and cheeky as Flo.

Many of David Heneker’s songs from the original production have remained—well you couldn’t do the show without "Half a Sixpence" and "Flash, Bang, Wallop". Stiles and Drew have adapted them and added many of their own, all pertinent to the story, tuneful, melodic, and with meaningful and often witty lyrics—all of which are sung excellently and with clarity by this exceptional cast.

I am constantly amazed at the continued brilliance of Andrew Wright’s choreography. He shows no mercy to his dancers and has them performing on tables, chairs, railings, a pub bar and even, at one point, swinging from a chandelier as well as dealing with a double revolve which is almost constantly on the move.

Amazed too at the brilliance and expertise of the dancers who perform the intricate, complicated and often gymnastic routines with joyous enthusiasm and not a step out of place. My particular favourite, which nearly brought the house down, was "Pick Out a Simple Tune" where Kipps certainly enlivens Lady Punnet’s musical evening with his banjo, an instrument with which the gentry were totally unfamiliar and definitely preferable to a bassoon.

Charlie Stemp is a great find and perfectly cast as Arthur Kipps, performing brilliantly in a role which requires him to be constantly on stage. His dancing ability is exceptional and, with an engaging personality and a cheeky grin, he takes the character on a journey from first love to inherited wealth and an attempt to fit in with the high society, followed by being cheated of his money and finally realising that it doesn’t bring happiness and love wins in the end.

A great, flamboyantly comic performance from Ian Bartholomew as playwright Chitterlow with his wild ginger hair and extravagant gestures and Vivien Parry is terrific as the avaricious Mrs Walsingham with her own ideas of how Kipps ought to dispose of his money.

The whole is played out on Paul Brown’s Edwardian-inspired wrought iron bandstand set, revolving to smart dinner party or rumbustious pub, and "Flash, Bang Wallop" is saved to the end with an increasingly drunken photographer recording the scene.

Rachel Kavanaugh always directs with flair and, although this may be an old-fashioned style of musical with a pretty obvious conclusion, I loved every minute. Great entertainment.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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