Tuesday, April 23

Kipps, The New Half a Sixpence Musical – The Plaza, Stockport

Flash, bang, wallop – what a show! It had vim, vigour and energy pouring through its veins. The only pity was there was not much of an audience there to enjoy it. Yet, the cast can’t do anything about that, and they were clearly giving it everything. This show from the Romiley Operatic Society was a joy to behold.

The popularity of Kipps is down to it being a rags-to-riches tale with a bit of depth. H G Wells’ novel deconstructs that age old story by not just having a poor person become rich but by exploring the idea that this new found wealth is in fact alienating for its recipient and also a tad malign.

Like Pygmalion, another story that pulls apart notions of innate class, Kipps was always ripe to be turned into a musical. Tommy Steele is synonymous with Half a Sixpence, but this new version brings the story closer to Wells’ original and it is much the better for it.

The Book is by Julian Fellowes, famous for creating Downton Abbey, so he is practised in fashioning upper-class snobbish characters. Most of the toffs are extremely unkind and unsympathetic people. After moving in their world Kipps finds his true self and realises he has no wish to be there. The audience sees he is better than his so-called “betters”.

When it comes to a musical what really matters are the songs and this has some wonderful tunes. I particularly enjoyed “The Joy of Theatre” which was wonderfully performed by Gary Jones as Chitterlow who was a magnetic presence whenever he was on stage.

Ben MacKenzie as Kipps had the all the naïve charm required for the part. Kipps is described by Wells as “a simple soul” and he brought out his honesty and honour. He carries the show along and everything he did was on point, first-rate and top-notch. The best praise I can give him is that I forgot he was an amateur performer.

The same is true of Kirsty Podlaski as Ann, Kipps’ childhood sweetheart, whose powerful voice and alluring performance was mesmerizing. She was at one moment fiery and passionate and at another warm and tender. When she was on stage it was difficult to take your eyes off her.

Helen Walsingham, the privileged and cultured object of Kipps affections, was played with stately grace by Amy Mason. It is a difficult part to pull off, but she brought to it the right level of hauteur and compassion.

All the set-pieces were pulled off with admirable verve and glee. There was plenty of pizzazz on show and an undertaking like this takes a lot of hard work and it definitely paid off in good measure. Not least in the Flash, Bang, Wallop section which was spectacular, and I spotted one or two of the actors slightly out of breath at the end of it.

Some of the scene changes could have been a bit slicker but I am sure that was just first night niggles which will be ironed out in no time.

Finally, the musicians were wonderful, and they were conducted energetically by Paul Lawton.

Kipps continues at the Plaza until the 25th March. For more on the Romiley Operatic Society go to www.romileyoperatic.co.uk

Reviewer: Adam Williams

Reviewed: 21st March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★