Writers: Julian Fellowes (based on an original story by H. G. Wells)
Original Music and Lyrics: Beverley Cross and David Heneker
New Music and Lyrics: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh
Choreographer: Andrew Wright
Musical Supervisor/Conductor: Graham Hurman
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
This much-revised version of the 1960s musical, written as a vehicle for Tommy Steele and turned into a successful film, gets a standing ovation at Chichester. A little surprising perhaps when much of the first half is rather ordinary with the shadow of Steele standing over it, but totally understandable after a much invigorated second half and with a lively performance of the classic Flash Bang Wallop ringing in the ears.
The original may have been written for Steele but this production is very much a vehicle for Chichester and its technical initiatives, which Director Rachel Kavanaugh uses with aplomb, and it is worth a ticket just for ‘the creatives’. Paule Constable’s lighting is excellent; the quirky choreography of Andrew Wright gives the show a certain individuality. Graham Hurman directs and conducts an excellent orchestra with pizazz and Paul Brown’s set uses all the Chichester technical wizardry to move seamlessly from seafront bandstand through drapery emporium, street scenes and public bars to society drawing room with one spin of the stage.
By contrast the story is suitably simple, based as it is on H.G.Wells Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul brought up to date by the golden touch of Julian Fellowes, which tells the ‘rags to riches and back again’ tale of one Arthur Kipps with an attendant love story of childhood sweetheart against society beauty.
The cast is wonderful and, in Charlie Stemp as Kipps, has a performer who holds his own through 20 of the 22 numbers in a physical tour de force. He is ably supported by his two leading ladies, Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann and Emma Williams as Helen and, although this is very much a show where the whole is greater than the parts, Ian Bartholomew as the playwright Chitterlow and Gerard Carey, doubling as fraudster Walsingham and the photographer, also stand out.
The singing of the three principals may be a bit variable but then so is the playlist of songs. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have added new material to the original Cross and Heneker music, which, just like the original, is not all notable. But they have come up with a cracker in Pick Out a Simple Tuneand this number at the beginning of the second act really starts the revival in which Kavanaugh brings all her skill and resources to bear and which carries the production through to its culmination in the splendid flash-bang denouement and that little bit extra.
Don’t go home at half time and certainly don’t go home before the very final curtain.
Runs until 3 September 2016 | Image: Manuel Harlan