Theatre Review: Half a Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre  

This comedy of social class and socialism, based on HG Wells novel Kipps, first saw the light of day in 1963, written by Beverley Cross and David Heneker for Tommy Steele who played Arthur Kipps. Now reworked with book refreshed by Julian Fellowes and lots of new Stiles and Drewe songs and lyrics, it’s deliciously fresh with a party scene as good as anything in My Fair Lady and echoes of both the Ascot and the drawing room scenes. Add to that the skilled direction of Rachel Kavanaugh, Andrew Wright’s stunningly original choreography, sumptuous costumes, an inventive set and you’re onto a winner.

Charlie Stemp as Arthur dances and leaps ebulliently round the stage with mercurial athleticism, neat feet and oodles of infectious personality. By turns his Arthur is rueful, earnest, troubled, joyful and eventually happy. Stemp has a fine singing voice both in solo work and in duets and other groups. He more than deserves the tumultuous applause he gets as he and Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann (also very good) finally dance – the energy is unflagging – off the stage after the curtain call.

In the supporting roles, Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow is suitably flamboyant, Emma Williams sings beautifully as the ultimately jilted Helen and Jane How is fun as Lady Punnet. The ensemble work is exceptionally strong especially in the scene when they entertain each other with musical interludes and Stemp opens “Pick Out A Simple Tune” on the banjo.

There are some really memorable songs in this show, many of them rooted in tuneful, witty, music hall tradition. The fast, furious and funny Flash Bang Wallop is now the finale and is a theatrical treat as you listen for the words of each verse and enjoy the way it hangs on the pause before it returns to the chorus. You won’t find a show with much more feel-good factor than this. It ticks every box.

Review by Susan Elkin