Thursday, 4 August 2022

REVIEW: Half a Sixpence at Kilworth House

The musical Half a Sixpence first came to the stage in 1963 and its romantic story of rags to riches to rags and back to riches of Arthur Kipps became a hit for Tommy Steele on film and on stage. It's rather dated feel of class attitudes and female roles was updated in 2016 by Julian Fellows with new songs by Stiles and Drewe and it is this version that the delightful covered but open-air setting of Kilworth Theatre in Leicestershire is staging this season until 28th August. Very well staged and wonderfully choreographed this is a lively and enjoyable evening entertainment with a marvellous cast who fill the spacious stage with brilliant routines. 

Although Dominic Sibanda may not have the cheeky chappie sparkle of Tommy Steele’s original Kipps, he does bring a more nuanced performance of a young man out of his depth in a new world and as he sings in one of the new songs “In the middle there’s me”. He starts uncertainly without Steele’s bravado, but we can see his love for Ann (Laura Baldwin) and his nativity in dealing with James Walsingham (Tom Pepper) who we can all see is on the make! He moves elegantly and is at his best leading the big original numbers such as in the charming “Half a Sixpence”, the delightful “If the Rains got to fall” that closes Act 1 and the barnstorming “Flash Band Wallop” which closes the show. 

The energy and precision that the large chorus brings to the Company numbers are infectious and you can't help but to smile and toe tap along as they move swiftly in unison across the stage in Nick Winston’s marvellous choreography. From the very start of the show in one of the new songs “Look Alive” the choreography enhances the characterisations and storytelling with a constant sense of fun and enjoyment across the cast’s faces. They build on this in the excellent “Money to burn” from the original score with the Apprentices in the shop Kipps works in, Sid (Will Carey), Pierce (Ross Harmon), Buggins (Ruairidh Mcdonald) and Flo (Tamara Morgan) each establishing their own distinctive personality which gives the show heart. 

The catalyst for change is the arrival of Chitterlow, a wonderfully over-the-top theatrical Welsh man played by Matthew Woodyatt who at every entrance lifts the scene with his larger-than-life personality. The show revels in his theatricality in an amusing meta moment with “The joy of theatre” ( a new song originally called I think “Back the right horse”) as if we in the audience needed telling while enjoying this joyful production. There is good support from Penelope Woodman as the gloriously self-centred Mrs Walsingham, Catherine Diggins as the puffed-up Lady Punnet and Sarah Goggin as the lovely heartbroken Helen fighting her overbearing mother.

Nick Winston’s direction has some lovely creative moments as in the comical scene eating snails and grouse, and then in the musical soiree of “Pick out a simple tune” with the battle of the musicians and in a glorious finale with the whole cast on Banjo’s that they looked like they had learned to pick out a simple tune on. The Hornby train set across the front of the stage provided one such moment symbolically showing the passing of time which I suspect some of the audience may have missed! Philp Witcomb evocative staging sets the scene of faded glory on a South Coast resort and the clever use of trucks for smooth transitions between scenes means the pace never drops. The wonderful collection of period costumes looks great, and the cast does well to dance so fluently in the long gowns.

This is a very fine production providing brilliant family entertainment in a charming tale of being true to yourself with a magnificent young cast and some very good musical moments accompanied by a band of thirteen under Christopher Mundy. It is a lovely setting and whether you are staying over for breakfast, dining before the show in the Orangery, picnicking on the lawns or simply enjoying a drink at the spacious open-air bars it makes for a very good night out with friends and family.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row B | Price of Ticket: £45

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