The musical formerly known as Half A Sixpence re-emerges on TV as Kipps but not quite enough of its charisma carries over onto the screen
“Him and his banjo, clatter janga ringa janga”
For reasons best known to the licensing gods, this recording of the musical previously known onstage as Half A Sixpence has been retitled Kipps, the new Half A Sixpence Musical. And equally puzzling is that Cameron Macktinosh International have sat on this recording for more than 4 years, nearly two of which we spent starved of theatre content. But ours is not to question why, just to switch on Sky Arts and pass judgement how we see fit.
This new version of Half A Sixpence as was, first premiered in Chichester in the summer of 2016, Beverley Cross and David Heneker’s 1963 musical adaptation of HG Wells’ 1905 novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul being heavily reworked with new songs from Stiles and Drewe and an entirely new book from Julian Fellowes. It transferred into the West End that winter where it lasted for a good few months, with audiences showing a limited taste for its nostalgia.
Recorded at the tail end of the West End run, this is a ‘tinkered with’ affair that does negatively impact on the whole experience. Co-creator Mackintosh claims a ‘produced and edited for screen’ credit along with David Dolman and whilst you can dismiss his silent movie-esque inserts as just terminally naff, the direction for screen is poorly done. Take ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’, a huge production number that benefits wonderfully from the expansiveness of Andrew Wright’s choreography, here the camerawork is chopped up into extreme closeups, vertiginous angles and ostensibly a complete lack of understanding of what makes it work.
And I’m not sure that Charlie Stemp’s undoubted cheeky charm here really plays well on screen. He naturally plays right out to the back row of the balcony so the choice to keep zooming in on him forefronts that exaggerated performance too much. As for the rest of the show, its wallowing in Union Jack-tinged nostalgia plays much less well for me today, a retrograde choice for a musical theatre industry that needs more forward-thinking, dynamic leaders producing material that doesn’t need its whiteness and maleness excusing.