Half A Sixpence, the iconic British musical adaptation of H.G. Wells’s disguised autobiographical novel Kipps: The Story Of A Simple Soul, has opened at Chichester Festival Theatre for the Summer and is closing to standing ovations every night.
This new stage version of the rags-to-riches novel is a completely fresh adaptation by Julian Fellowes, Oscar-winning screenwriter and creator of Downton Abbey.
Arthur Kipps, an orphan, is an over-worked draper’s assistant at Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone, at the turn of the last century. He is a charming but ordinary young man who, along with his fellow apprentices, dreams of a better and more fulfilling world, but he likes his fun just like any other, except not quite.
When Kipps unexpectedly inherits a fortune that propels him into high society, it confuses everything he thought he knew about life. Watching him wrestle with his new identity is his childhood companion and not-quite girlfriend, Ann Pornick, who sees with dismay how Arthur is being made over in a new image by the beautiful and classy Helen Walsingham. She is always there with helpful hints on how Arthur could improve himself and make his life richer and more meaningful, if only he would believe in himself, and listen to her. Both of these young women love Arthur – there is no doubt about that – but which should he listen to? With the help of his friends, Arthur learns that if you want to have the chance of living the right life, you need to make the right choices.
This new stage version of Half A Sixpence has a stellar creative team and reunites bookwriter Julian Fellowes with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the musical team that co-creator Cameron Mackintosh first put together to create the smash-hit stage adaptation of Mary Poppins with Disney. They have written an exuberant score that is inspired by and features several of composer David Heneker’s memorable songs from the original production, which he co-wrote with Beverley Cross, including the show-stopping Flash Bang Wallop, Money To Burn and the irresistible Half A Sixpence.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh’s previous work at Chichester includes The Music Man (2008), Love Story (2010) and more recently Single Spies (2016).
Starring as the leading role of Kipps, a part heralded as one of the great Tommy Steele’s finest every performances, is the relatively new boy on the block Charlie Stemp. Aside from the uncanny resemblance, Stemp has got the charm, wit and tom foolery of Steele by the bucket load. Like a ray of sunshine from start to finish and carrying the show, this fine new talent is undoubtedly about to spring into the West End spotlight.
The supporting cast are dynamic, slick and full of energy, leaving the audience cheering for more. The new script brings the dialogue bang up to date, adding pace and clarity, together with a few unexpected blue moments! Die hard fans may be disappointed that the infamous ‘All in the cause of economy’ number has been scrapped (such a shame), however the show-stopping addition of ‘Pick Out a Simple Tune’ is simply mesmerizing and more than makes up for it.
For a night of toe-tapping, soft shoe shuffling musical greatness that will guarantee to leave you with a grin as big as Tommy’s, grab a ticket whilst you can and make your way over to Chichester.
Based on the H.G. WELLS novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul And the original musical by BEVERLEY CROSS and DAVID HENEKER