Arthur Kipps an overworked, orphaned young man – works as a draper’s assistant to the unrelenting taskmaster Shalford. He’s a relatively normal and naive working class chap; with one eye on the beautiful daughter of an upper class family, and the other on bettering his lot in life. A chance conversation with the uproarious and theatrical Chitterlow changes Arthur’s life forever as he’s abruptly thrown into the bewildering world of high society and a confusing love triangle between class, kindness and true devotion.
It’s the first amateur outing for this Julian Fellowes re-write of the classic by H.G.Wells following its successful West End run, a World Premiere on The Courtyard stage.
From the off this show gives me a full on Oliver! feel, with big musical numbers, solid choreography and that zip, zing and zeal that comes with those big West End shows. The story itself is typically British and reasonably predictable, in a comforting, familiar way – working class boy seeks his fortune, boy meets girl, boy finds his fortune, ends up in a run of scrapes and begins to question whether his social advancement was really worth leaving everything else behind for.
It’s brilliant to see so many younger performers take principal roles; it’s so easy to cast the “old faithfuls” instead of taking the punt and it really has paid off. Charlie Plumridge, taking the lead and his first role in the adult company, has the makings of a great musical actor. It’s hard to believe that he’s just 16 years old, and is definitely one to watch in the future as he develops his performance skills (and banjo playing). Supporting Plumridge are the fantastically talented draper’s apprentices: Flo (Sarah Rowberry), Pierce (Thomas Phillips), Mary Buggins (Meg Reid) and Sid (Riley Gummerson), who deliver the humour and real enthusiasm throughout the entire production.
Aside from the principal cast, the ensemble don’t fail to deliver once. I find myself tapping my toes to every musical number and watching what’s going on in the background of “busy” scenes as there’s always something interesting happening. Each and every member of the ensemble seems to have well defined character in every single scene, a refreshing change to the too familiar generic “man in background” role I see so much in large ensemble pieces.
Specials mentions to Donna Reid (Mrs Walsingham) and Steve Allan (Photographer/Carshot) for going above and beyond with their characters. I especially enjoyed what I have affectionately dubbed the “Walsingham wail” during scene seven and the drunken shenanigans of the Photographer during the huge “Flash, Bang, Wallop“.
This is easily the best I’ve seen from HMTC in every respect, and I’ve been watching since Little Shop of Horrors in 2013! The dancing, the acting, the music and the direction is tip-top and I left the theatre humming (and with a bit of a residual Kentish accent). A real feel-good show, overflowing with fresh new talent…bravo HMTC, bravo!
KIPPS: The New Half A Sixpence Musical runs until Saturday 9 November at The Courtyard.
Tickets are still available from the the Box Office on 01432 340555 and at www.courtyard.org.uk