• Becky Wallis

Kipps: The New Half A Sixpence Musical - Archive Recording - Sky Arts - Review

Updated: Apr 28

Theatre is a forever changing, forever evolving thing and the same can be the said to the ever-rotating carousel of shows that come in and out of the West End. Shows open, shows close, things change. New shows open and old shows become nothing but distant memories that you hold dear and revisit whenever you listen to the cast recording. But in more recent years, it is slowly but surely becoming more popular for shows to be filmed, a brilliant way of capturing a moment in theatre history that can be enjoyed again and again. Now, sometimes shows are filmed purely for archive purposes, but sometimes we theatre fans get lucky, and these professional recordings are released for cinema and tv. And whilst this is a great thing, sometimes it can be such a long time between a show being recorded and it being shown to the masses, that we can start to wonder if it is ever going to happen.


Half A Sixpence, the show that launched Charlie Stemp to stage superstardom, played its final west end performance way back in 2017, and although we were all aware that the show had been filmed, we were told that it was purely for archive. This show means an awful lot to me so I never gave up hope that the recording would one day see the light of day in the public eye. And now, finally, my prayers have been answered as the recording finally made it to television, premiering on Sky Arts.


Now called ‘Kipps: The New Half A Sixpence Musical’, it tells the tale of Arthur Kipps (Charlie Stemp), an apprentice working in a drapery emporium when he unexpectedly inherits a fortune. With riches beyond his wildest dreams, he is thrust into the world of the wealthy and forced to decide where his future lies. The original version of the show premiered way back in the 1960’s at the Cambridge theatre starring Tommy Steele in the leading role. This revival, featuring new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a book by Julian Fellowes, opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to London’s Noel Coward theatre where it run for ten months.


With songs such as ‘Look Alive’, ‘She’s Too Far Above Me’, ‘Pick Out a Simple Tune’ and, of course, the iconic ‘Flash Bang Wallop’, ‘Kipps’ oozes fun and old school charm, with some of the best and most high energy dance numbers seen on the stage in recent years.


Just like the original production made a star of Tommy Steele, this production made Charlie Stemp a star in his debut as a West End leading man. With a boyish charm, beaming smile and incredible dance skill, Stemp lights up the stage in a role that he was born to play. Barely off the stage for the whole show, his seemingly endless energy is infectious and even through a television screen you can feel the excitement and the rapturous applause he earns with his performance. Devon-Elise Johnson’s Ann is sweet and lovable, yet determined to stay true to what she believes in. She knows what she wants and won’t allow herself to be swayed. As Helen, Emma Williams oozes elegance and in this production, the character is given chance to develop and find herself. Johnson and Williams chemistry with Stemp is both believable and charming.


As Arthur’s fellow shop apprentices Sid, Buggins, Pierce and Flo, Alex Hope, Sam O’Rourke, Callum Train and Bethany Huckle prove themselves forces to be reckoned with when it comes to comedic timing and performance. Arthur’s best friends, they are the ones who try their best to help him with his troubles whilst trying to better their own lives. Gerard Carey excels as James Walsingham, a role that highlights the class difference between the wealthy and the poor that is pivotal to the story. He is also given the chance to show off his natural flair for comedy, also playing the role of the photographer. Ian Bartholomew, who recently became known for his portrayal of the horrible abuser Geoff in Coronation Street, is delightful as the cheerful Chitterlow, with his act one number ‘Back the right horse/Joy of the Theatre’ beautifully not only sums up the back and forth between playwrights and critics but also everything we love about theatre, be we a performer or an audience member.


It was a treat to see so many of the swings on for this filmed performance, showing the important role that they play to ensure that the show can go on. The ensemble bounce from one role to another effortlessly, be they joining in with a knees up in the pub or mingling at a fancy garden party. The dance numbers in this production are incredibly high energy and fun, harking back to the golden age of musicals, and they are guaranteed to leave you with a huge smile on your face. Act two number 'Pick out a Simple Tune' and the classic 'Flash Bang Wallop' are particularly impressive.


As it is whenever a show is recorded, there are always different ways of doing it, be that straight on to the stage, with multiple cameras and close ups, or a bit of both, along with how much of the audience they decide to show. ‘Kipps’ was filmed with multiple cameras, allowing for close ups and different angles. You don’t see much of the audience until the encore, but the biggest change made in the move from stage to screen is the addition of special effects and graphics illustrating the scene changes. Whilst it did take a little bit of getting used to, it added a cinematic feel to it all and overall fitted with the tone of the piece. That being said, it was a shame that a graphics, taking the shape of paintings of each location in which the scenes take place, cover the scene changes which were cleverly done with the use of multi-directional rotates.


Overall, ‘Kipps: The New Half A Sixpence Musical’ captures the wonder of the stage production, oozing with fun, laughter, and the joys of the theatre. The cast are incredible, bringing the characters to life with believability and passion, leaving the audience willing Arthur on to make the right decisions and with the hope that everyone will find their happy ending. Just like with the experience of seeing this production live in the warm embrace of the Noel Coward Theatre, this filmed production will leave you grinning from ear to ear for the foreseeable.


You can watch ‘Kipps: The New Half A Sixpence Musical’ repeated on Sky Arts (freeview channel 11) on January 1 at 3pm, or watch it from Sky catch up.


Images found via Google, not my own

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