HALF A SIXPENCE
Chichester Festival Theatre03.09.2016
“I see the London opening,” says actor/impresario Chitterlow. How perceptive. As we watch the Chichester production's last day, the cast already know that they will all transfer to the Noel Coward on October 29.
Not so hard to predict, really, given the track record of Chichester transfers. But nothing has been left to chance. This is “the new flash bang wallop musical”, the third incarnation of the original Tommy Steele vehicle. Radically, for those still mourning the Old Military Canal, the book has been given a makeover by Julian Fellowes, no less. And there are new songs a-plenty from Stiles and Drewe [Betty Blue Eyes, Travels with My Aunt].
That big number is key. Two lessons seem to have been learnt. First, you can't really follow that. So it's shifted to the Act Two finale. Second, the show needs more of the same. Big, energetic production numbers and British charm. Knees-up in the Hope and Anchor. Swinging from the chandeliers. So we have “Pick Out A Simple Tune”, “Back the Right Horse”, and, a charming seaside postcard duet for the girls - “Touch of Happiness”. But we still have “Money to Burn”, “If the Rain's Got to Fall”, and some of the quieter numbers: “Too Far Above Me”, “The One Who's Run Away”. Not to mention the title number.
The Chichester/Coward cast is led by Charlie Stemp as Kipps – a young, energetic, broadly beaming song and dance man. The two women in his life - “Up and Down the Social Scale” is another new number – are Devon-Elise Johnson as Anne and Emma Williams as Helen. Ian Bartholomew is a brilliant actor-laddie, who's also the vicar in the ensemble. More doubling from John Conroy as Mr Shalford and Foster the butler, and Gerard Carey as black sheep of the Walsingham family and, memorably, the camp photographer in that big number.
The design is based on a Victorian bandstand - “Borough of Folkestone” on the cast iron work – all blue skies and seaside with multiple revolves for smooth scene changes. And, this being Chichester, there's real wet rain at the end of Act One, and some wonderful production numbers, not least the show-stopping banjo orchestra.
Though it'll be a tall order to replicate our front row experience in the Noel Coward, formerly the Albery, still known as the New Theatre back in 1963 when Steele first played Kipps's banjo.