Kipps

Date 9th April 2022
Society Canterbury Operatic Society
Venue The Great Hall, Canterbury
Type of Production Musical
Director Norman Holness
Musical Director Steven Wassell
Choreographer Courtney Jones

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Author: Cheryl Marksford

I had the pleasure of playing Ann Pornick in “Half A Sixpence” back when I was the appropriate playing age. It was an enjoyable experience. In fact, Norman Holness (the talented director of this production of Kipps) played Chitterlow in the same production! However, the show itself is not on my list of particularly memorable musicals. Thankfully, the updated version (Kipps) is certainly fresher, sparkier and brisker-paced than the original with the additional songs sitting well in the story. This is a tale of the rag trade to riches and the realisation that the things you want most in life are often right under your nose. 

Canterbury Operatic Society is a company that works together; it is like a family. Never has a production been hit by complication upon complication. First a COVID lockdown bringing the whole production to a halt, then illness throughout the cast including the MD and leading man delaying opening night by two nights (with an understudy in another leading role – more on that later), and finally the alternative opening night delayed again due to the venue losing tiles off their roof!  I have complete respect for this company and their production was well worth the wait.

Ewan Stanley as the titular character Kipps is both talented and charismatic. He really got into the characterisation of the role and was full of boundless energy throughout. It was clear he was having the time of his life. His singing was excellent with the right balance of cheekiness and sincerity. His partner in crime, Elizabeth Pilcher as Ann Pornick, was natural and engaging showing real depth of emotion with her dialogue as well as picking up on those witty nuances. She was a strong and capable singer though I would have preferred as much light and shade in her songs as she delivered in her dialogue.

The friends of Kipps, Sid played by Luke Humphries-Page, Flo played by Grace Newton, Pierce played by Jay Kitto & Buggins played by Will Cooper, were a most affable group, each with their own distinct character and likeability. They worked well as a team and really supported each other especially in the scenes with the terrifyingly strict Bill Brand as their employer Mr Shalford. You certainly would not mess with him! Out of the draper's, shop is where Grace Newton as Flo Evans came into her own. Her effervescent, cheeky performance was simply magical. She lit up the stage and managed to find lots of extra humour within her character. Her duet “Just A Little Happiness” was one of the many highlights and a real crowd pleaser. 

Helen Walsingham is a difficult role to play convincingly as the audience is asked right up to the end to consider that she may be knowingly deceiving Kipps. Of course, she is not, that is the work of her crooked brother, played deliciously unctuously by David Bedford. Alice Martin showed us a character we hoped would be ok in the end though her love for Kipps was not always believable from the outset. For the audience to have their heart strings tugged, a more tender beginning to their relationship was needed. Her singing was beautiful and her performance, both confident and self-assured. Then there is the dragon of a mother! The ambitious and self-seeking Mrs Walsingham was played with aplomb by the ever-wonderful Angela Bowden. Loud, overbearing and bossy she made the role her own. She had us crying with laughter. An outstanding performance as always. 

Although there were many other fine performances a special mention must go out to Jamie Mount who, as well as playing Uncle Bert and Foster took on the role of Chitterlow with just five days’ notice! Jamie is an actor with natural charisma yet he judged his performance accurately enough to not be too over the top or take the limelight away from anyone else on stage, which is often possible with this character. He was at ease in the role and gave a truly professional performance.  

The remaining company were splendid. Choreography by Courtney Jones complimented the acting and singing and everyone looked comfortable demonstrating sheer enjoyment at being able to let go with abandon. The orchestra were tight under the direction (on the night I saw it) of the rehearsal pianist John Mitchell. Sound was generally good throughout though I felt it was unevenly balanced in some of the bigger company numbers. I was impressed with the choice of set and the way it worked and the costumes were sumptuous.

Director, Norman Holness created a charming, nostalgic piece of musical theatre that left the audience with that warm feeling in their hearts. A splendid production fully deserving the standing ovation it received. I look forward to seeing what you present in the future.