HALF A SIXPENCEWOW! at the Public Hall Witham
Brought up on Glee and Grease, this very young company could hardly be expected to catch the spirit of this charmingly old-fashioned show – a museum piece even when it opened in the 60s – the last traditional musical to transfer from the West End to Broadway.
But I'm delighted to report that WOW's production, directed by Faith Rogers and Louise Lachance, with Ben Firth in the pit, is a lively, stylish evening.
The look is lovely – navy blue and boaters for the draper's apprentices, a vintage back-cloth for Folkestone's promenade, real Edwardian bats for the cricket match.
The dancing, too, is a delight, making the most of the restricted space – the ball, Economy, Money to Burn all inventively choreographed against Paul Lazell's simple, versatile set. And there are some real musical comedy performances in the large cast – amongst them Harry Tunningley's irrepressible Buggins and Dexter Montgomery's wonderful Chitterlow, knowing looks and extravagant thespian gestures, fond of Zola, Chekhov and Old Methuselah.
Kipps himself – the oldest apprentice in the employ of sour old Shalford [Chris Tierney] – is engagingly played by Jake Collis, with a winning Colgate smile and a nice line in self-deprecating narrative. His lost and confused soliloquy [What Should I Feel?] makes a nice contrast with the cheery chappy. The two women in his young life are Charlotte Toft's feisty Ann and Tasha Gooderham's elegant fashion-plate Helen. Too Far Above Me is a nice musical exposition of the class conflict at the heart of the H G Wells story. Amy Seymour makes a suitably unbending Mrs Walsingham, looking down on young Artie's attempts at social climbing.
The energetic ensemble – cricketers, carollers, customers and carpenters – is well deployed, with plenty of opportunities for cameos and striking stage pictures. The human staircase in particular sticks in the mind: a tiny moment, but typical of the care with which this show is crafted.
Photograph: Matilda Bourne Video: Alice Tunningley