Cheese And Corn, But So Well Done: Half A Sixpence Reviewed

Half A Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre ★★★★★

By Johnny Fox Last edited 23 months ago

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Cheese And Corn, But So Well Done: Half A Sixpence Reviewed Half A Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre 5
© Manuel Harlan.

The Saturday morning BBC radio programme Children's Favourites regularly played Tommy Steele's Flash, Bang, Wallop, trying to hammer it into the national consciousness. It failed to chart back in the 60s, and it's still a bad ear worm today except for the glorious wrapper in which it's now delivered — as Half A Sixpence lands in London from Chichester with such a handsome, smart and cleverly rewritten production.

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have given the 1963 David Henecker score a complete reboot with new songs which fit seamlessly into the story — their ragtime Pick Out a Simple Tune being an absolute stunner in Andrew Wright's mercilessly energetic choreography which continually boosts the pace of this show to an infectious high.

In a brisk refresh of the book, Lord Julian Fellowes — indefatigable chronicler of the love affairs of toffs and housemaids — has taken his syrupy finger out of the Downton Abbey fundament to convey some of HG Wells' socialist sympathies for the working man.

This is the same team, along with director Rachel Kavanaugh, behind Wind in the Willows, currently earning rave reviews in the provinces with Rufus Hound prior to the Palladium from next June — and it's undoubtedly a winning formula.

© Manuel Harlan.

Sixpence was a vehicle custom built for Tommy Steele who sang 12 of its original 15 numbers – it's surprising that the re-working still gives the Arthur Kipps character 21 out of 23 in the new show, and even more so that the producers would gamble on unknown Charlie Stemp to deliver them. He is a marvel. An acrobatic and athletic dancer who's just wonderful to watch. He's even got a grin as broad as the cheeky Steele himself.

Some meticulously good work in the rest of the cast — Ian Bartholomew's dodgily avuncular Chitterlow is a joy, and Jane How has clearly come a long way from being Dirty Den's bit on the side in EastEnders to play impossibly slender Lady Plunkett.

Emma Williams is fine as the 'posh' girlfriend but Devon-Elise Johnson doesn't find in housemaid Ann the humour Liver Bird Polly James brought to the original. If this runs forever — as it well might, Bethany Huckle — currently having great fun as Kipps' pert workmate Flo, could well step up.

Half a Sixpence continues at the Noel Coward Theatre, now booking until 11 February 2017: tickets £14.75 to £127.95.
We saw this production on complimentary tickets.

Last Updated 18 November 2016