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posted/updated: 07 Nov 2019 -
Kipps: The New Half a Sixpence Musical
Book: Julian Fellowes Music and Lyrics: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe with original songs by David Heneker and Beverley Cross
society/company: Geoids Musical Theatre (directory)
performance date: 06 Nov 2019
venue: Bridewell Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8EQ
reviewer/s: Chris Abbott (Sardines review)

Photos: Paul Nicholas Dyke

Combining as they do a great deal of musical theatre expertise and a totally unpronounceable name, Geoids Musical Theatre have done it again, producing a sparky and thoroughly enjoyable revival of Kipps, Cameron Macintosh’s makeover of the Cross and Heneker musical Half a Sixpence. This version has new songs by Stiles and Drewe that fit well alongside the original numbers. The new book by Julian Fellowes, however, does not manage to resolve the peculiar plot moment towards the end of Act Two despite providing much else that is an improvement; but I must remember the warning in the lyrics that “Critics may be critical, or over-analytical…”

That moment in Act Two is of course the sudden decision by the hero to reject the devoted and loving woman he is about to marry in order to return to his childhood sweetheart. It’s a very difficult moment to get right, and the startled laughter from the audience on the first night was more a result of the story than the way it was portrayed in this production, although it does help if Helen Walsingham is portrayed as a little more calculating and less devoted than was to be seen here.

Leaving aside unbelievable plot lines – and an errant emergency flood light on the first night which kept illuminating the audience before the necessary wire was pulled at the interval – this was up to the usual high standard expected of this group, and made good use of the large Bridewell stage. No designer is credited although Chris Hughes-Copping is listed under Set Concept and Visuals – not sure what that means, but the various elements of the set served well to indicate location and importantly left most of the stage free for the ensemble musical numbers, which were the highlight of the evening. Costumes were nicely matched in tone and the general Edwardian feel was convincing, although it is difficult to get a young actor to wear a top hat convincingly, especially if it is a little too large.

With a cast of nearly 30 and a 12-piece orchestra led by MD Issie Osborne, this was a quality production which was a joy to see and hear. The unseen orchestra were still playing as the last audience members left and this is the kind of show that needs a large orchestra. Amongst the large cast actors who caught the eye included Joshua Yeardley as an endearing and light-footed Buggins and Sean Westwood in a nice cameo as the Photographer. As a couple of over-bearing ladies with social pretensions, Annabel Watson as Mrs Walsingham and Katy Robinson were nicely contrasted and always watchable.

A very confident Chris Watson made much of Chitterlow. He is an actor who can move from speech to song smoothly and then deliver a narrative in music. The central trio worked well together, with Ellie Jones sympathetic and appropriately low-key as Ann opposite Amy Foden’s beautifully sung and clearly spoken Helen. As Kipps, a nicely gauche Will Emery was more than up to the task, appropriately endearing although also suggesting the weakness and flaws in the character.

Holding it all together was director Luke Renwick, who ensured that his large cast made the most of their opportunities and of the large stage; although one or two of the dialogue scenes were played far upstage, leaving something of a void between them and the audience. And I would like to have seen some photo flashes during Flash, Bang, Wallop. These small caveats apart, this was an intelligent and skilled production, greatly enhanced by the choreography of Paul Brookland Williams. Good to see the spoons in use during Pick out a simple tune too. A shout-out too to producer Giles Burden; a thankless task in many ways but an essential one in the world of amateur theatre. Geoids (originally the G&S Society of the King’s College London Geography and Geology departments) will be 90 years old next year: I look forward to seeing what they will produce then to celebrate that achievement.

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