Half a Sixpence was the musical created for then-pop star Tommy Steele, the original production with music by David Heneker and a book by Beverley Cross running back in 1963. This version, with extra music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and an expanded book by Julian Fellowes, premiered in Chichester and has now moved to London’s Noel Coward Theatre, an intimate space that suits the piece.
Based on the book Kipps by H.G. Wells, Half a Sixpence is the story of Arthur Kipps, a department store clerk who comes into some money and sees the chance to woo the beautiful and sympathetic Helen Walsingham, a lady who has taken an interest in Arthur. Things are complicated by the reappearance of Arthur’s old flame Ann, with whom he split a sixpence when they were teenagers (hence the show’s title) to prove his undying love, as well as Helen’s formidable friends and family which make Arthur wonder if he really fits in to this society.
As Arthur, newcomer Charlie Stemp carries the show, with a likeable and charismatic personality and an insane amount of energy. Devon-Elise Johnson is good as his love interest Ann, and Emma Williams is excellent as Helen – if only she had more to do.
The new songs work really well with the originals, the highlight being the incredibly catchy “Pick Out A Simple Tune”, which hold their own alongside the classics like “Flash Bang Wallop” and the title song. Andrew Wright’s choreography is superb, inventive and energetic.
The show isn’t perfect – it’s still very old-fashioned (although really that’s part of the charm) and I ended up feeling particularly sorry for Emma Williams’ character. Still, it’s a fantastic production of a show some might have dismissed as belonging in the past, and I defy anyone not to be cheered by it.