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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: Half a Sixpence in London

Let me make it plain that I am not a theatre reviewer. I am however, a huge fan of musical theatre and my absolute favourite, all-time musical has always been Half a Sixpence. I fell in love with the Tommy Steele film as a little girl and have loved it ever since.  And so when it was announced that the musical was being staged in London, I had to go and see it, of course.

Now then. When I go to the theatre I never buy a programme. Never. Programmes are expensive and tell you little about what you really want to know. But I made an exception for Half a Sixpence, because I love the show so much. And while I sat waiting for the show to begin, in those excited few moments before the lights dim and the overture begins, I read the programme (£4 if you're interested) and my heart sank.

Here's why.

This new version of Half a Sixpence isn't based on the Tommy Steele film. It's not even based on the stage play, and yes, I've got that soundtrack on CD.

This new version of Half a Sixpence, is, the programme told me, based on Julian Fellowes' own adaptation of Kipps. Worse was to come.  Julian Fellowes admits that "he had never seen the stage version of Sixpence and hadn't liked the film."

So, we have a different story to the one we know and love.  Could it get any worse?  Yes, I'm afraid that it could, and it did.

The programme went on, in one horrific word after another, to say that the songs had been remastered. "There's hardly a bar we haven't interfered with in some way."

And so, with my heart in my shoes, I sank back into my seat as the show began. It was similar, but different, to the version of Sixpence I knew and I loved. But I wanted my Sixpence. I wanted my show. However, Cameron Mackintosh and Julian Fellowes had robbed me of it.  I almost left at half time, but I'd been so looking forward to seeing the show for so long, that I knew I had to sit it out, however painful it was.

There was also another reason (well, two reasons) that I didn't walk out.

The first reason is Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps  and the second is Devon Elise-Johnson as Anne. Both of them are perfect in their roles, and bring a vigour and life which was reminiscent enough of the film that it brought a smile to my face. Charlie Stemp was magnificent and I gave him a standing ovation at the end.

But never mind the end, back to the songs.

Many songs are not included from the film or original stage play, which is just about excusable.

There are new songs too, including the fantastic Pick Out A Simple Tune which is the one I was humming as I floated out of the exit at the end of the show.  And new songs are understandable.

But what is unforgivable is that the original songs they did use had their lyrics changed. Yes, all of them. I almost cried. In We'll Build a Place / I Only Want a Little House it's as if they tore the song in half, threw it up in the air to see which characters it landed on before handing round the song sheets. Awful stuff. I truly wish they'd kept the original lyrics. Can't imagine that happening in The Sound of Music, can you?

So, if you're a fan of Half a Sixpence and you're going to see the show in London - think on. It's not what you'll expect, or want.

But there is a great deal of charm to it, and with Stemp and Johnson in the lead roles, there's a great deal of magic too.

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Glenda Young books

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