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Posts Tagged ‘H G Wells’

This 1963 show was written as a vehicle for Tommy Steele, who also took it to Broadway and starred in the 1967 film. This is a substantial re-working, with a new book by Julian Fellows and new songs from Stiles and Drew. I thought it was a big old-fashioned populist treat!

It’s based on H G Wells semi-autobiographical rags-to-riches-to-rags-to riches-again novel Kipps. Getting a story from the Downton creator where the toffs are the baddies is a bit odd, but it’s a good book. Arthur Kipps is an apprentice draper until he inherits a fortune, falls in love with posh Helen Walsingham, is exploited and left penniless by her brother and mother, realises he doesn’t belong with the toffs and returns to his old world to marry his first love Ann. Working class meets upper class and wins. The characters are all rather stereotypical, but hey its musical theatre. Many of David Heneker’s original songs have been retained, with seven new ones added, including excellent ensemble pieces Look Alive, Back the Right Horse and Pick Out a Simple Tune.

The creation of the two contrasting worlds is brilliantly done by Paul Brown’s set, and even more importantly his superb costumes, and Andrew Wright’s choreography, which is amongst the best I’ve ever seen on any stage, light as air, athletic and witty. Director Rachel Kavanagh presides over this with staging of great flair. Whatever you think of the show, the production is masterly. With great vocals all round and a decent size twelve-piece band, it all sounds wonderful.

Charlie Stemp is a real find. His Arthur has bags full of charm coupled with innocence and naivety. He’s strong vocally and moves superbly. Devon-Elise Johnson and the great Emma Williams make a fine pair of romantic leads as humble Ann and silver-spooned Helen respectively. Arthur’s fellow apprentices Sid, Buggins and Flo are a delight as played by Alex Hope, Sam O’Rourke and Bethany Huckle, with John Conroy the suitably pompous boss Shalford. Vivien Parry, Jane How and Gerard Carey are all excellent as the ladies and gentlemen ‘upstairs’. Chitterlow is an odd character, a bit of an older H G Wells perhaps, but Ian Bartholomew gives another of his fine characterisations. It’s hard to imagine a finer cast.

I thought it was a delight and I predict it will be another big hit for the Chichester musicals machine.

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Maybe the ify reviews lowered my expectations. Maybe it’s got better since those early performances. Maybe I’m more disposed to a bit of fun than those hard-nosed critics. Whatever it is, I rather enjoyed this!

It must be my week for revisiting shows from c.20 years ago. The night before it was Stiles & Drew’s Just So from 1990 and now this tongue-in-cheek Ken Hill adaptation of H G Wells which I first saw at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1991. If you need a reason to go and see it , here’s two – Paul Kieve’s terrific illusions and Maria Friedman’s ample bosom seemingly moving of its own free will when caressed by the invisible man!

Ian Talbot has staged it as a show within a music hall show (I don’t think the original was?) with a Good Old Days-style MC. Paul Farnsworth’s design’s are cartoonish and somehow it seems wholly in keeping with the show that they look as if they could collapse any minute! It’s a cross between slapstick, farce, vaudeville, cartoon and panto and I was smiling at the theatrical mix even when I wasn’t laughing out loud at the silliness of it all.

It’s an excellent cast who are clearly sending everything up and having a whole lot of fun at the same time. It’s infectious. It’s great to see Maria Friedman show off her exceptional comic talents (as well as her ample bosom!). Jo Stone-Ewings comic timing and physical acting is outstanding. Gary Wilmot does well as part narrator / part character Thomas Marvel. Christopher Godwin’s been-there-done-that Wicksteed is a treat.

It won’t change your life, but If you’re disposed to have a fun night out, you probably won’t leave disappointed – we didn’t.

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