Review - Half A Sixpence (Noël Coward Theatre)

After a well received run at the Chichester Festival Theatre, a new stage adaptation of Half A Sixpence has opened at London's Noël Coward Theatre. 

While audiences may be familiar with the 1967 film of the same name, this new production features a completely new book, adapted by Julian Fellowes from the semi-autobiographical HG Wells novel Kipps, and a new score by songwriting duo Stiles and Drewe. Fans of David Heneker and Beverley Cross' original score need not be disappointed though, as it has been tweaked and incorporated  into the production alongside a litany of new tunes. 

Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
The story itself is a fluffy affair. Julian Fellowes' book is full of adorable archaisms, but also features an abundance of humour and warmth more suited to modern audiences' tastes. Similarly, a couple of racier references elicit a few giggles from the audience but still fit believably into the musical's Edwardian setting.

Young sweethearts Arthur Kipps and Ann Pornick grow up together in a small Kentish village, but are separated when Kipps is offered an apprenticeship in a drapery in a Folkstone. Years later Kipps inherits a large sum of money and starts rubbing shoulders with the higher classes, in particular the family and acquaintances of local beauty Helen Walsingham. However, the longer Kipps spends in the company of wealthy but banal members of society, the more he starts to miss his old life. 

There can be no doubt that an absolutely first rate cast has been assembled for this production. The ensemble works incredibly hard and sells one group number after the other. Pick Out A Simple Tune and Flash, Bang, Wallop are particularly fun, and showcase the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the company, as well Andrew Wright's lively and dynamic choreography.

Devon-Elise Johnson makes the audience fall in love with her delightfully self-assured Ann Pornick almost immediately. Meanwhile dependable musical theatre star Emma Williams, who received an Olivier Award nomination for her performance in Mrs Henderson Presents earlier this year, is once again in fine voice as Helen Walsingham. Although the role itself is ultimately a little bit bland, Williams portrays the role with a hint of subdued sadness which offers a subtle but affecting insight into the realities of life in Edwardian England, and all-consuming importance of class and social standing.

Additionally, Alex Hope, Sam O'Rourke, Callum Train and Bethany Huckle make a fantastic quartet as Kipps' pals from the drapery, who each imbue their roles with distinctive personality and exude a wonderfully convivial dynamic in every scene they share. Similarly, Williams' Mrs Henderson Presents costar Ian Bartholomew is energetic and amiable as Kipps' whimsical friend, actor and aspiring playwright Harry Chitterlowe. 

Without a doubt though, the star of the show is Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps. He injects the role with tons of boyish charisma, and has the audience enraptured from beginning to end. Every second of his charismatic performance is simply joyous to watch. To see a young actor so at ease on stage is hugely impressive, and no doubt Stemp will be one to watch from now on. 

The production itself has a wonderfully vintage aesthetic, which perfectly complements the old fashioned charm of the Half A Sixpence book and score. Sets and lighting help to create an idyllic pastel coloured playground for the characters to inhabit, and each character is costumed correspondingly. Costumes also ooze archaic loveliness, featuring plenty of patterns, plaids and stripes. Every element of Half A Sixpence radiates a carefree, dreamlike softness, which makes the whole piece feel airy and enchanting, a feeling which encapsulates the extent of it's utter gloriousness. 

Half A Sixpence is an irrefutably enjoyable bit of good old fashioned entertainment, which is guaranteed to leave audiences grinning from ear to ear. It's heartening to see such an archetypically british musical open amid a sea of broadway transfers and long running West End stalwarts. Having hit London with a flash, a bang and a wallop, let's hope it's here to stay!  

Half A Sixpence at the Noël Coward Theatre is currently booking until mid February 2017. For more information and to book tickets visit