Review // Half a Sixpence

My favourite film ever is Oliver!, and I love the proper old-fashioned British musical aspect of it. Those huge musical numbers with everybody dancing in unison, and the complete immersion in this different world. When I saw the cast of Half a Sixpence perform on Children in Need, I got the impression that this was in a similar vein. I enjoyed the performance so much that I made it a priority to buy tickets to see it myself. Spoiler alert: That was a brilliant decision!
Half a Sixpence Musical Theatre Review

I'd heard of Half a Sixpence from a documentary on musicals I watched a few months ago, but I knew very little about it- it was from around the time of Oliver! and had that Flash, Bang, Wallop song that my Grandad used to sing sometimes. Before my theatre trip, I did a little research to find out some context and found out that this was the first West End production of Half a Sixpence since 1963. I also discovered that it had been revised and adapted but, as I knew nothing about the original production, I couldn't tell you what had changed. I wanted to keep everything a surprise so I didn't look into the plot at all. The only inkling I had of the storyline was the series of performances of Flash, Bang, Wallop that had been on TV to promote the show. 

When I arrived at the Noël Coward Theatre, I took my seat on the balcony. I'd chosen a cheap seat at the edge with a 'restricted view' that turned out to be not very restricted at all. Since it was the front row of the Grand Circle, I had a completely unobscured view towards the stage. It's always worth taking a risk on those restricted view seats! 

As it turns out, the story is a pretty simple one- Arthur Kipps finds that all his dreams come true, but they're not quite the happily ever after he was hoping for. He struggles to find his feet and adapt to his changing circumstances, with a little love triangle thrown in there for good measure. Unfortunately, the performance that has been doing the rounds for promotion is one of the final numbers and completely gives away the ending so I realised about 20 minutes in that my effort to avoid spoilers was redundant. 

Thankfully, this didn't take away from my enjoyment at all. By the end of the first number, I had goosebumps all up my arms. This was exactly the magical, immersive theatre experience that I'd thought was a myth. I love the theatre, don't get me wrong, but I'd never been able to recapture that all-encompassing wonder that I'd experienced as a child. Half a Sixpence did it for me. With musical numbers that fill up the entire theatre, energetic choreography that makes use of the whole, cleverly-rotating stage, and complex moves happening left, right and centre, there is too much for one person to take in. Best of all? The energy doesn't stop. Sure there are a couple of classic ballads but I was glad to realise that they don't have the kind of dull lull that usually halts the momentum of a production. Instead, they provide a short break to catch your breath before launching into the next high-energy routine.

If I were to sum up the performance in one word, it would be frenetic. The best example of this is Pick Out a Simple Tune, a song that starts innocuously enough before building and building and building until the whole stage is crashing with hilarious chaotic energy. This, along with Look Alive and the classic Flash, Bang, Wallop were highlights for me. Each one completely swallowed me up so I was unaware of anything other than what was happening on the stage in front of me. This carried on well after I left the theatre- weeks later, I was still finding the songs had wedged themselves firmly in my mind, once even waking up humming a tune I thought I'd forgotten!

Of course, the production and creative team have a large part to play in all of this, but it's the cast who bring it alive. Ian Bartholomew's rather eccentric Chitterlow is both funny and endearing, while Devon Elise-Johnson plays the role of Ann with a simplicity that appears effortless. For me, Emma William's portrayal of Helen was possibly a little too reminiscent of Sally Ann Howes' performance as Truly Scrumptious in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film, but I can't deny that she perfectly played the role of a warm, empathetic high society debutante. Without exception, however, the stand out was Charlie Stemp who- if I remember correctly- was in pretty much every scene. Not only did he act, sing and dance with incredible energy throughout the entire performance, but he also had a banjo to contend with! I'm not sure if he was playing live or mimicking the chords but either way, that's no mean feat! I can't imagine anyone portraying the well-meaning, ambitious Arthur Kipps any more brilliantly. 
Half a Sixpence Noel Coward Theatre
Without a doubt, Half a Sixpence is the best show I've ever seen. If you're a fan of classic 1960s musicals, you must see it. As I understand, it's been incredibly well received and its run has been extended until September so you've got loads of time to book a ticket. I might even go and see it a second time!

Buy Half a Sixpence tickets here

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