Noel Coward Theatre, London – until 2 September 2017
Rachel Kavanaugh has created a delightfully light footed production that leaves the audience beaming for joy. This wonderfully perky musical is a classic rags to riches story that shows that money really doesn’t buy happiness, wonderfully told through the story of Arthur Kipps an orphan who works as a drapers assistant until he unexpectedly comes into the money. Then throw in a love triangle and a banjo and you have one of the most optimistic musicals in the West End at the moment.
Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is helped by a lively and enjoyable book by Julian Fellowes who ensures that the story is well paced and ensures that the audience remains engaged with Arthur’s story. The love triangle situation might be ultimately resolved too easily and it would have been nice to have had a bit of more of a background into the Walsingham family story – but this is just a minor quibble in a delightful and entertaining story.
Combining the original music and lyrics of David Heneker with new music and lyrics of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, means that the score is very much optimistic and sharp – perfectly capturing the spirit of the show. Songs such as ‘Half a Sixpence’ which in itself is enough to make you fall in love with the show, helped by the performances of Charlie Stemp (Arthur) and Devon-Elise Johnson (Ann) in the opening sequence and ‘Pick Out a Simple Tune’ are really strong for example but there doesn’t seem to be any weak links musically, emphasised by the energetic choreography Andrew Wright.
But what is really a delight to see is just how much the cast are clearly enjoying themselves on stage, not least Charlie Stemp as Arthur, caught up in a class war against his will. Stemp gives such a natural performance in character while dancing with light footed elegance, that you could forgive him anything (not that you need to in this show!) . To watch Arthur struggle to retain who he is while adapting to his new station in life is a well judged performance from Stemp and is almost like My Fair Lady in reverse – Helen trying to change him into a ‘proper’ gentleman but realising he was happier being himself with his friends.
He is more than amply supported by Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann: feisty, straight-talking and with a rough charm about her that is very sincere and enjoyable to watch, while Emma Williams as Helen is more aloof given the difference in status – while not able to convey her love for Arthur in the same way as Ann – the way she reacts to Arthur calling off their wedding is genuinely heartfelt, uncovering a different side to Helen that is lovely to see. There is also strong support from Sam O’Rourke as Buggins and Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow.
Throughout, Half a Sixpence is a playful and entertaining straightforward production that is guaranteed to make you smile no matter what kind of day you have had. In fact they could bottle it and sell it as a tonic to cure the blues. Beautifully performed, choreographed and directed – flawless entertainment.