Noel Coward Theatre, London
“I’d let him strum my banjo” – It was no surprise to discover that Half A Sixpence would be transferring into the West End – its run at Chichester Festival Theatre was a huge success (you can read my review below) and with Cameron Mackintosh on producing duties, it was always going to be a case of when rather than if. It’s a slow-burner of a show, the second act really is the business thanks to Andrew Wright‘s choreography…
Take a deep breath… the 1963 musical Half A Sixpence by Beverley Cross and David Heneker, based on the HG Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, has been adapted anew for Chichester audiences with Julian Fellowes writing a fresh book and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe adding new music and lyrics to Heneker’s original songs. And because Cameron Mackintosh is Cameron Mackintosh, he gets a co-creator credit.
Originally written as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele, Half A Sixpence is the story of Arthur Kipps, an orphan who dreams of a better life whilst earning a pittance as a draper’s assistant in Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone. An unexpected bequest thrusts a fortune into his hands but his meteoric rise in society leaves him conflicted about his place in life as his heart is pulled between two very different young women (and a banjo).
Rachel Kavanaugh’s production in all its old-fashioned charm is perfectly pitched for the Chichester audience (who to a person probably know who Tommy Steele was – I had to look him up!) and the Edwardian bandstand of Paul Brown’s revolving set design nods to this. And fans of Downton Abbey won’t mind Baron Fellowes of West Stafford once again giving us his inimitable if oft-repeated take on the British class system.