Kipps, the New Half a Sixpence Musical

Date 7th January 2022
Society Festival Players
Venue ADC Theatre Cambridge
Type of Production Musical
Director Cat Nicol
Musical Director Ana Sanderson
Choreographer Kirsty Smith

Report

Author: Julie Petrucci

What many audiences respond to is all-out musical entertainment and Kipps, the New Half a Sixpence Musical is certainly a great musical loaded as it is with excellent songs.  H.G. Wells wrote “Kipps – The Story of a Simple Soul” over a century ago. Originally staged in the West End in 1963 (book by Beverley Cross, music and lyrics by David Heneker), it later became a film both very much a vehicle for Tommy Steele. 

In 2016 the book was re-written by Julian Fellowes and given a new lease of life following a collaboration between the Chichester Festival Theatre and Cameron Mackintosh. The new version still has adaptations of a number of the original songs, plus additional music created by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. 

The famous story revolves around Arthur Kipps whose life changes when he inherits money. Kipps tries to become part of the upper set, whilst also keeping up with his old friends where he feels more comfortable. He seemingly forgets his childhood sweetheart Ann who carries the other half of his sixpence: becoming engaged instead to the wealthy Helen Walsingham.  Kipps realises he doesn’t belong in this new world and that the girl who still carries her half of the sixpence is the girl for him. 

Cat Nicol’s direction kept things cheerful and animated and Kirsty Smith’s excellent and thoroughly rehearsed choreography was skilfully executed well by the whole cast.  Musical Director Ana Sanderson certainly brought out the vocal best of the principals, Ensemble and the very fine musicians who under the nightly baton of Conductor Andrew Taylor were tight and polished.

The scenery and props were minimal yet effective and the very imaginative lighting design (James Ireland) compensated for any lack of scenery and full marks to the Ensemble players who doubled as stage crew for handling the myriad of scene changes swiftly and efficiently.  The lovely costumes (Liz Milway), sound and lighting were good so the odd blip in cueing though negligible was noticeable.

On stage almost continuously from the start of the show to the curtain call, Hector Wheatley in the titular role did a grand job. With good stage presence he had the necessary charisma to make Kipps likeable.  It must be a daunting prospect for any lead male cast in this role and Hector should be congratulated on his performance. His singing and dancing were excellent throughout. 

Good strong performances were had too from Kipps’ fellow employees Philippa Norman as Flo, Tom Greenhalgh as Buggins and particularly Luke Dell as Sid, This trio was augmented by a flamboyant and an extremely enjoyable performance from Ash Smith as Mr Chitterlow.

Rosie Parrish made a very sweet Ann giving us flashes of her character’s feistiness when needed. Her lovely voice was an added bonus.  Saskia Edwards-Korolczuk as Helen Walsingham imbued her character with much more apparent warmth and kindness than one has come to expect from this role and it worked well – I really believed she cared for Kipps. This was a fine performance added to by Saskia’s beautiful singing voice.  

The addition of new songs gives the Ensemble more to do but one song We’ll Build a Palace belongs to the Walsinghams.  This little scene showed us that Mrs Walsingham (Caroline Dyson) was a force to be reckoned with – everyone’s nightmare mother-in-law and James  Walsingham (Tom Greenhalgh again - this time understudying the role due to cast illness) was not at all the sort of person to do business with!  Great support amongst the social elite came from Mandy Jeffery oozing kindness and enthusiasm whilst remaining regal as Lady Punnet.

Suffice to say that all those in named roles were worthy of their part, many of whom joined the hardworking Ensemble which was excellent. Everyone was totally involved with the action when on stage, which is not something that happens in all amateur shows.  

With first-rate stage and musical direction, excellent leading artists and an impressive supporting cast Festival Players’ Kipps was an all round enjoyable evening of theatre.  Congratulations.