Now, before you say anything, I know that I have reviewed Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre before. But I have seen it again and theatre is always changing. You can never see the same show twice, even if it is the exact same show with the exact same cast. You notice different things, interpret things differently, no matter what you are guaranteed to never see the same show twice.
St Patrick’s day in London can be a little chaotic, and I escaped the chaos in the best possible way. An evening spent in musical theatre paradise. In a time where musicals are becoming more international, Half A Sixpence is a show that couldn’t be more British, full of old world charm and tributes back to the classics. How can see a young man dancing and leaping from a lamp post without thinking of singing in the rain, or see dancing his heart out in a top hat and tails without thinking back to those old classics? Yet Half A Sixpence does the impossible, it has the old world charm but still feels new and refreshing. The show is full of life and love and heart, and it just makes me grin like the Cheshire cat. There is nothing else like it.
Now, the main difference between this time and the first time I saw the show was the leading man. With the amazing award winning Charlie Stemp off injured, it was up to understudy Sam O’Rourke to step up to the leading role, on incredibly short notice! And Oh My God, he was absolutely incredible and had the audience hanging on his every move! He made the character his own with a beautiful voice and some of the most immaculate dancing I have ever seen. And when it come to the roof raising curtain call, I have never heard an audience cheer and applaud as loudly as they did when he was pushed forward to take one more well deserved bow. He looked like he was having the time of his life up there on that stage and the audience absolutely loved him. Power to the understudy!
With Sam pulling out all the stops to perform as Arthur Kipps, it was up to Matthew Dale to play the food loving sweet hearted apprentice Buggins. He was brilliant, bringing and fun and cheekiness to the much loved role, admiring shop girl Flo from afar as she talked fondly of Kipps. Friday night was a night to admire the brilliance of understudies and swings. With Half A Sixpence having a relatively small cast, it is not surprising that there is a number of character double ups. Admiring the speed of the costume changes and spotting people in their different costumes as you enjoy the show are all part of the game. With Harry Morrison on as secretly troublesome James Walsingham, out to make money from innocent rich gentleman, his normal character Carshot was played by swing David Birch. Both were absolutely great, I especially enjoyed Morrison’s take on the hilarious photographer in Flash Bang Wallop. And Birch seemed to be loving playing the drapery worker Carshot, running around the stage with his signature exclamation ‘Oh My Heart And Lungs!’
Another understudy was Annie Wensak on as Mrs Walsingham in place of Vivian Parry. She was great as the mother leading her adult children around, trying to act more privileged then she was and putting on a show for her high society friends as she tries to get money out of Arthur. I particularly liked her in her final scenes, dramatically sobbing as the realisation of losing it all was happening all around her, the only positive of the situation being rid of that ‘silly little man’.
Now I couldn’t possibly write about Half A Sixpence without mentioning Devon-Elise Johnson as Arthur’s childhood sweetheart Ann. She is amazing, with a voice to die for and a fire inside her that gives Ann her feisty attitude. Ann is a girl who knows what she likes and what she wants. She has always loved Arthur, the funny warm hearted boy she played games with by the sea as a young girl. Seeing him in the world of the rich breaks her heart because she sees that boy disappearing before her very eyes. The high society life doesn’t suit her Artie and all she wants is to have him back the way he was. You see this most during ‘You Never Get Anything Right’ when she tries her hardest to make him realise that he isn’t himself anymore.
Special mentions must also go to Emma Williams as Helen Walsingham, the young high society women that Arthur had always admired but never dreamed he could have. Lead around by her mother, Helen is a women who wants her own life and it is clear that she really does have feelings for Arthur despite knowing that her mother and brother only want them together for Arthur’s fortune. You really feel for her when Arthur makes his final choice. I also loved Alex Hope as Sid, full of dreams of revolution and rights for the working class, representing the social issues that were happening at the time the show is set. Callum Train is also brilliant as Pearce, and Bethany Huckle brings amazing comedy and heart as show girl Flo, a friend to Ann and her double act partner in the incredibly funny ‘Just A Little Touch Of Happiness!’
In conclusion, I think Half A Sixpence is perfect in every way. It makes me feel alive and full of joy, it makes me grin like the Cheshire cat. Long story short, it makes me happy and that is something magical about the theatre, especially this piece of theatre. There is nothing else like it and no other show makes me feel the way I do about Half A Sixpence. As the song ‘The Joy Of the Theatre’ says ‘we know there is nothing greater than to see we’ve put a smile upon a stranger’s face’ and Half A Sixpence definitely puts a smile on my face. It is a work of art, a work of genius with a cast that has enough energy to power the sun. I’ve seen it twice now and will proudly say that I am looking forward to making it a hat trick when I return to London in the summer.