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Phil Willmott

Review: HALF A SIXPENCE at the Noel Coward Theatre

Half a Sixpence They say the simple pleasures in life are the sweetest and it's certainly true of this revival of a lovely, heartwarming and unpretentious musical from a time when writers and composers simply aspired to make an audience smile and to send them home humming a song from the show.

The very slight plot is based on a novel by H.G Wells in which a shop boy, Arthur Kipps, inherits a fortune, and as a result chooses to marry outside his class before fate intervenes and all works out more satisfactorily. The message that money doesn't bring contentment is always popular for audiences living through tough times.

It's a musical from the early 1960s about the Edwardian class system and although it has a socialist as a secondary character and touches on the plight of shop workers as slave labour, and they really were treated as such back then, no exploration of issues is allowed to dampen the fun. There's romantic frustrations but nothing approaching Les Miserables' gut wrenching heartbreak; just a cheerful young man's skirmish with the wrong girl.

On a bold but pretty bandstand set in which the various locations shimmer into view via projection, sliding panels and not one but three revolving turntables, an attractive high energy cast sing and dance their heart out. The enthusiasm with which they alternate between playing a chirpy working class and a stuffy high society is palpable and clever choreograoher Andrew Wright gives both sets of characters a clearly defined vocabulary of moves. Both worlds are great fun choreographically, contrasting an infectiously enjoyable drawing-room romp for the number PICK OUT A SIMPLE TIME that culminates in a dancer swinging from a chandelier, with a cockney-style, pub knees up for the show stopping HOLD IT, FLASH, BANG, WALLOP!

The first of these is a new addition to the score by songwriters George Styles and Anthony Drew who've replaced some of the drearier numbers from the original 60s show by David Heneker and Beverley Cross; the second is the highlight of the show both then and now and it still raises the roof after all these years. I love how it's become a company number in this version and not just performed by a soloist with a chorus as it was originally.

Despite this and other reorganising of the roles, giving more of the company a turn in the spotlight, any successful production of HALF A SIXPENCE still relies on a charismatic performer in the central role. This revival is blessed with the hitherto unknown charms of Charlie Stemp, a young star-in-the-making who really nails the singing, dancing and comedy whilst also looking adorable.

His two contrasting girl friends are winningly played by Devon-Elise Johnson as childhood sweet heart, Anne and Emma Williams as posh but troubled Helen.

A feel good treat for all ages.

I should probably complain about the old fashioned sexism of the story, its outdated notions of sticking with your place in society and about the lack of ethnic diversity in the casting. But when everyone's having as much fun as this - who cares?

A feel good treat for all ages.

Half a Sixpence