A group of London’s keenest bloggers and theatre writers were invited by RAW PR to a pre-show exclusive event for Half A Sixpence. I was fortunate enough to attend and get a flavour of how much effort and magic goes into this show night after night.
Half A Sixpence is going from strength to strength – since opening on the West End in October 2016 it has won three WhatsOnStage Awards (Best Actor – Charlie Stemp; Best Supporting Actress – Emma Williams; Best Choreography – Andrew Wright) and achieved three Olivier Award nominations (Best Actor in a Musical – Charlie Stemp; Best Supporting Actress in a Musical – Emma Williams; Best Supporting Actor in a Musical – Ian Bartholomew). It got 5* reviews from WhatsOnStage, The Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph to name but a few and has been extended twice so far, currently playing until September 2017. Not bad for a show rewritten by Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe after the original premiered over 50 years ago!
To help celebrate its success, PR Agency RAW PR invited a group of bloggers and media to attend a special pre-show event to meet some of the cast, ask a few questions and even learn a couple of dance moves before settling in to see just why this show has become a family favourite in its brief time on the West End.
From learning part of the routine to “Flash Bang Wallop”, the show’s big finale number with dance captain Jaye Juliette Elster and swing Samantha Hull, to watching leading man Charlie Stemp play the banjo (affectionately named Babs), the Half A Sixpence crew were quick to put us through our paces. Personally, I felt as though I had completely mastered the dance routine, even if it was only about a quarter of one of the dance breaks, in a song that has a multiple dance breaks, in a show that has multiple dance numbers… It mainly reminded me of the fitness level that must be needed to sing and dance throughout the whole show, night after night.
Once we settled into the Q&A session, actors Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps), Emma Williams (Helen Walsingham), Bethany Huckle (Flo) and Sam O’Rouke (Buggins) were subjected to the full force of the bloggers interviewing skills. Here’s a sample of some of the questions that they were tested with:
Any mistakes on stage during your time there?
Charlie: In the last scene, I was riding the motorbike off the stage and I accidentally clipped one of the bar stools. It got caught in between the onstage door and the spokes of the bike, so I was stuck. I revved the engine so it just got stuck more. Meanwhile everyone in the theatre is still waving at me, expecting me to ride offstage into the distance!
Sam: The direction is for him to exit upstage centre and then, in your mind’s eye, the bike goes around the corner. You can’t see the bike of course and we all wave him off into the distance. Half of the cast turned and waved while a quarter were still waving at the door and the other quarter has got hold of the bike and were trying to get him free and through the door.
Bethany: Also, the one in Chichester when the revolves didn’t work for “Look Alive” and everyone was just walking as an improvisation.
Emma: There’s this whole situation where the revolves move but people stand still and they pose. That didn’t happen!
Sam: The thing that sticks out in my memory in that situation was all the shoppers still being calm and collected and going around the revolve, all the apprentices frantically trying to yank this bar around the stage and the cherry on the cake for me was Graham [Hurman, Musical Supervisor and Conductor], stood with the orchestra above the stage, quietly laughing to himself at the chaos.
What are each of your favourite numbers are?
Emma: I love “Pick Out A Simple Tune” because it’s the only big dance that I get to do in the show – I’m getting changed when you guys are doing “Flash Bang Wallop”. We’re always listening to it wishing we were there, but actually smiling that we were having a coffee and a biscuit instead!
“Pick Out A Simple Tune” is so crazy and gets progressively crazier, that’s the joy of it. Andrew’s choreography is so intricate, the madness of when it gets going on stage is really infectious among the cast, you can feel it spreading between everyone.
Bethany: I would have to say “A Little Touch of Happiness” – it’s really fun and I get to do it with Devon-Elise [Johnson], which is extra fun cos she’s one of my best mates. It’s nice, we don’t really have to act, just smile and skip around on stage with some casual innuendo.
Charlie: It depends for me – different days, different things. When I’m enjoying a dance, I think “If The Rain’s Got To Fall” but if I’m in a singing mood then “In The Middle There’s Me” with the boys is always something that I found very hard so I always enjoy cos I realise how much hard work went into that. Also, “Pick Out A Simple Tune” cos of Babs [the banjo].
Sam: Mine’s probably “In The Middle There’s Me” for the opposite reason to Emma – the majority of the numbers that you do as an apprentice, while we have lovely scenes as well, are big song and dance numbers. As fun as they are, “In The Middle There’s Me” is the bit in Act 2 where the four of us boys get to sit, chill out, sing a song and enjoy being in the moment.
Emma: That’s the one we sing along to in our dressing room when we’re getting changed. We do a really nasty harmony at the end just to make it sound less beautiful!
If you had money to burn, what’s the one thing you would buy?
Sam: Mine would probably be, it’s a bit of a rubbish answer, it’d be a car. I’m not even a massive car fan, but being down in London one of the things I miss the most is having the freedom of a car and driving around. I’m still insured back home, I can’t justify one in London. If I had money to burn, a nice DB9 on the drive would be good.
Charlie: I’d have some nice grass for my garden. I bought grass seed and it still isn’t working.
Bethany: I’d buy a really nice apartment in Covent Garden, so you could go out, see a couple of street performers and just pop back home.
Emma: I think I’d pay off all my family’s mortgages. But then I’ve got 11 years on the rest of you lot.
If you weren’t doing this show, what would be your dream role?
Sam: I always find that a really hard question because in this show, we’ve all been blessed with one of the most amazing experiences as an actor, which is creating a role yourself. They’re all original parts so we’ve got to put our own stamp on it – in whatever capacity Half A Sixpence exists in the future, they’ll be a part of us in those parts. That’s the most exciting thing really – doing one that hasn’t been written.
Charlie: But then again… Mary Poppins! Since I was a kid, I used to break my mum’s brooms and put them up the chimney. It’s interesting because our producer [Cameron Mackintosh] owns the rights for Mary Poppins, so every time I see him…! I went to see my friend in it in Manchester and I went on stage with a broom and sent him a picture, just in case.
Bethany: If ever I had to be ambitious, probably Glinda in Wicked – that’s a big role right there!
Emma: I’ve been really fortunate, almost all of my career has been in new shows and first casts. That’s really rare and it does spoil you. So, I think I’d go really old school, something like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, which I did when I was 16, or Anna from The King And I, which I did when I was 17. Those are roles that I played as a kid that I’d really like to do now that I vaguely know a little more about acting and definitely a lot more about how to sing.
Bethany: Maybe something with more dance in. I went to go and see Thoroughly Modern Millie ages ago in Edinburgh and it was incredible to see a six-minute dance number. Sam and I last year did Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and it was a barn dance of everything. Even though it was a killer it was quite nice to dance and do that side of things as well as sing. You’ve got to challenge yourself in that way too.
As for the show itself, it’s safe to say that Half A Sixpence has lost none of its sparkle since I saw it back in November 2016 (see my website for the review). Cheerful, hopeful and family friendly, this is a show that you can’t help but be caught up in.
Half A Sixpence plays Noel Coward Theatre until 2 September 2017. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website.
Images courtesy of Manuel Harlan and Michael Le Poer Trench.