Review: Half A Sixpence. Kilworth House Theatre. Leicestershire

Half A Sixpence

Kilworth House Theatre

Fresh on the back of their excellent production of ‘Carousel’, Kilworth House Theatre are keeping audiences entertained this summer with a new production of another classic musical, ‘Half A Sixpence’.  Originally seen on stage and screen in the 1960s, the musical was reworked after the Tommy Steele vehicles, and became officially known as ‘Kipps – The Half A Sixpence’ musical, with a new book by Julian Fellowes (updating Beverley Cross’ original words).  This version played London’s West End in 2017 starring Charlie Stemp and Emma Williams, which also enjoyed a television broadcast in 2021.

The musical tells the story of Arthur Kipps (played here by Dominic Sibanda), a charmingly down-to-earth draper’s assistant, who dreams of a better life.  Upon learning he’s to be separated from his childhood sweetheart Ann (Laura Baldwin), Kipps files a sixpence in half and gives one part to Ann as a symbol of their affection to look back on.  Kipps soon learns that he’s inherited a fortune, which quickly launches him into the upper class, and all of the problems that inevitably come from having money.  Ann reappears into his life, and Kipps needs to figure out who he is, who he wants to be, and what true value really is.

Fellowes’ book remains true to the time setting of the musical, and fills the production with a great deal of quaint ‘old world’ charm.  It’s also wonderful to see that in an age where producers seem desperate to modernise new shows for fear of alienating today’s audiences, Director Nick Winston and producer Celia Mackay have chosen to keep the piece within its turn-of-the-20th-century roots, and its all the better for it.  Far from feeling like a “museum piece”, the production floats on an effortless timelessness, evoking a more innocent time gone by, and audiences looking to escape from the complexities of modern life will be richly rewarded.

The new musical compositions by Stiles & Drewe blend seamlessly with David Heneker’s original songs, feeling fully cohesive and rounded, with only true fans of the musical being able to distinguish the old from the new.  Heneker’s compositions sound as good as they ever did (“She’s Too Far Above Me”, “If The Rain’s Got To Fall” and “Flash Bang Wallop” being the highlights), and Stiles & Drewe make the ears equally happy with the additions of “The Joy of The Theatre” and the ridiculously-catchy “Pick Out A Simple Tune” which may never leave your head again.

Kipps’ story is brought to life by a likeable and engaging cast.  Dominic Sibanda does a great job leading the show as Kipps, bringing a natural charm and warmth to his performance, and is able to step out of Charlie Stemp’s shadow and make the role his own.  Laura Baldwin is also great, radiating a natural innocence and likeability that is delightful to both watch and listen to, as she shows off her beautiful voice in “Long Ago” and “Just A Little Touch Of Happiness”.  Fresh out of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s disappointing ‘Cinderella’, Baldwin remains as wonderful to watch as always, and again proves the range of her talents.  Also providing huge entertainment value as Chitterlow is Matthew Woodyatt, clearly relishing the “Brian Blessed”-esque nature of his role and bringing huge amounts of personality to the stage.  And it’s not just the leads who impress here – from the second the ensemble gather to perform the first group number, it’s clear what a talented bunch they are, performing Winston’s choreography dynamically and with an infectious energy, really selling the show’s up-tempo numbers.

With its sweetly innocent nature that may perhaps feel too quaint and “safe” for some audiences, Kilworth House Theatre’s ‘Half A Sixpence’ still offers a West-End-quality production in a beautiful woodland setting, and is just the tonic for a warm summer evening.  It is charming, funny, with ensemble dance numbers to thrill and musical melodies to hum on the way home.  ‘Half A Sixpence’ is a gently playful delight and another success for Kilworth House Theatre.

‘Half A Sixpence’ runs at the Kilworth House Theatre until Sunday 28th August 2022

Performance runtime 2 hours 35 minutes including interval

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