Kipps - The New Half a Sixpence (Tinkers Farm Opera)
Whilst this a slightly adapted version of the classic Half a Sixpence (originally written as a vehicle for Tommy Steele) by Julian Fellowes with new songs from Stiles and Drewe, it loses none of its charm and is entertainingly and sensitively brought to the stage at Stourbridge Town Hall by Tinkers Farm Opera.
If there was ever a story proving that money isn't everything and perhaps 'true love' is more important then this is probably the one as Arthur Kipps (a compassionate, perceptive and vocally outstanding performance from Richard Cooper) rises from shop assistant to rich gentleman only to lose his fortune and his girl but, finally regain both and the benefit of hindsight.
Arthur's (or Artie as she calls him) real love is Ann Pornick an ordinary girl but, far from an ordinary performance by Rebecca Bate (lilting vocals and a presence that lights up the stage, despite the character in many ways being quite demure).
It's vital that the audience understands this is a relationship from childhood which is cemented by an opening scene with, at this performance, Liam Cox as Young Kipps and Martha Crump as Young Ann, both touching portrayals (sadly I didn't get to see Harry Coupland as Young Kipps but, if his presence in some of the ensemble scenes is anything to go by, I'm sure he will be equally appealing).
Shalford's Drapers Store is a difficult place to work, under the thumb of the domineering Mr Shalford (Tony Daniels) but, Arthur and his co-workers Sid Pornick (champion of the people and brother to Ann, played with enthusiasm and energy by Tyrone Howell), Buggins (champion of food and a heart-warming performance from Simon Wilkinson), Pierce (didn't hear anything like enough of the voice of Alex Thompson in this role, which from what we did hear feels like we missed something special) and token female (that wouldn't happen these days !) Flo Evans (a gem of a performance with a jewel of a voice from Megan Smith). rely on each other for survival.
Resigned to his life in the lower echelons of society, everything is about to change for Arthur by a chance encounter with actor, writer, raconteur, Chitterlow, a gloriously, bubbly performance from Matthew Morgan who realises via a newspaper article that Mr Kipps has come into a fortune. This of course changes everything, he can now do more than admire society lady Helen Walsingham (a delightfully 'proper' performance with a properly engaging vocal from Beth Siviter-Coupland).
If only Arthur knew that Miss Walsingham is the only 'decent' member of her family and therefore his proposal of marriage was always likely to be doomed. The character performance of the night comes from Barbara Hayward as Mrs Walsingham, perfectly upper class in every way, not particularly liked by even her daughter but, you have to feel for her as the thought of losing her status is just too much. Similar traits have rubbed off on her son James (played with pompous gusto by Alex Catana) who will be the catalyst for Arthur to lose his fortune.
At this point I feel I should also give a mention to Di Hingley as Lady Punnet, another member of the society elite but, a character that nobody could fail to love, no matter their status in society.
Back penniless it is time for Artie to reunite with Ann reconnect their half sixpences (cue a Flash, Bang Wallop ! wedding and some especially rousing applause from the audience) and we assume live happily ever after, even his shares in Chitterlow's theatre production which yield him a second fortune cannot spoil the scene this time.
Watch out for some truly great musical numbers, in particular 'Money to Burn', 'Just a Few Little Things', a joyful duet between Ann and Flo of 'Just a Little Touch of Happiness' and the special ensemble number 'Pick Out a Simple Tune'.
Credit to Director/Choreographer, Emma Harley alongside Musical Directors Ian Hayward and Simon Wilkinson for a totally warm and engaging production that can't fail to entertain, so 'if the rain's got to fall' make sure you are in the dry and watching this one.