Available via Now TV & Sky Arts
Kipps – The New Half A Sixpence Musical is a production from 2016/17 so actually a few years old now, though it is “new” in the sense that it’s an updated version of a musical first performed in the early 1960s to showcase the singing, dancing and banjo playing talents of Tommy Steele.
Following the success with the stage adaptation of Mary Poppins, Cameron Mackintosh recalled the services of songwriting team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe to flesh out the original and brought in Julian Fellowes to rewrite the book. This trio had also worked on a musical adaptation of The Wind In The Willows and with Fellowes’ credentials as the creator of Downton Abbey, they clearly know their way around an Edwardian set piece of light entertainment. While we’re dealing with the credits let’s also mention novelist H.G. Wells, author of the original novel which is light years away from his sci-fi material.
In many ways, the plot of the piece echoes Shaw’s Pygmalion/My Fair Lady as the central character finds that being hoisted up the social ladder suddenly is far from the idyll imagined.
Arthur Kipps, a self-effacing and kindly draper’s assistant inherits a fortune and finds himself propelled into the world of the moneyed classes when all he’d rather be doing is playing the banjo and being with those he has left behind in Folkestone. There’s evidently a healthy dash of Great Expectations hanging around in the plot too, even to the fact that Kipps becomes infatuated with society beauty Helen Walsingham (Emma Williams in fine voice) at the expense of his long-standing relationship with childhood sweetheart Ann Pornick (Devon Elise-Johnson).
Where Helen was previously unattainable, she is suddenly within his compass, and he looks set to marry her; the Walsinghams are actually broke and need Kipps’ money to retain their social status. Of course, it doesn’t take any great powers of prognostication to realise that all will be well by the finale.
It’s actually a show that examines class quite candidly (a move of which Wells would definitely have approved) and strongly suggests that the espoused communist beliefs of Anne’s brother, Sid (Alex Hope), are infinitely preferable to those of Helen’s swindler sibling, James (Gerard Carey). There’s also a significant nod to the power of theatre in the subplot featuring the flamboyant Mr Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew, playing to the gallery) who is another Dickens homage – Vincent Crummles from Nicholas Nickleby is clearly one of his forebears. Fellowes’ book, therefore, mostly moves along a fairly predictable path of rags to riches to rags to a state of equilibrium but as the show’s primary function is to entertain it succeeds on its own terms.
‘A show that examines class quite candidly’: @johnchapman398 on #Kipps @HalfASixpence, now available via @NowTV. #HalfASixpence #onlinetheatre