There’s a special kind of magic in the joy that the theatre brings’ sings a youthful Chitterlow in WODS’ production of Kipps, and never was a truer word spoken. In this, their first show since Covid struck, WODS provided ample evidence of its veracity, as they roared back on to the stage with a joy and enthusiasm that was infectious. This is a show brim-full of brio and panache, with some top class singing and dancing, which deserves to be seen by a larger audience.
Kipps is a revised version of the musical Half a Sixpence, with a Book written by Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame. The story follows the misadventures of the hapless Arthur Kipps, a working class lad whose happiness at coming into money is quickly eroded at the hands of a bunch of grasping aristocrats. Will Arthur be true to his new love, the well-to-do Helen, or return to childhood sweetheart Ann, who suddenly re-enters his life? The answer to that question probably won’t surprise many, but we certainly had a great time getting there! Roughly one third romance, one third fish out of water tale, and one third social commentary, the show is enlivened by a series of toe-tapping musical numbers that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the famous Tommy Steele musical.
Toby Edwards played Kipps with a reserve and naivety which was slightly at odds with Ann’s description of the character as ‘wild and silly’, but it felt appropriate as he was pushed from pillar to post in his efforts to please. Poor Kipps – at one point it seemed that all anyone wanted to do was to have a pop at him! His characterisation really came to life for me when Kipps found some backbone (and a banjo) at Lady Punnet’s ill-fated party. In a role that requires stamina – Kipps is barely off stage – Edwards delivered a very professional performance (and is it just me, or does he look a bit like a young Brian May?)
Lou Ford and Helen Rawlings gave strong, sweetly voiced performances as Kipps’s competing paramours Ann and Helen, the former also enjoying a saucily entertaining seaside postcard number with Megan Crosby’s fabulously flirtatious Flo. Adam Norton, Elliot Kainey and Dan Hooper formed a warm and natural group as Kipps’s friends and colleagues, each with well-defined characterisation, and Ed Mears contributed a dashing, confident Chitterlow (coping manfully with a faintly ridiculous hat!) Special mention must go to Bruce Wyatt, who added a couple of scene-stealing turns as the ill-tempered tailor Shalford and a gloriously camp, toping photographer.
Well as all the principals sang and danced (and they were all very good indeed), for me the heart and soul of this show was in the performance of the ensemble. What a delight they were – exuberant, tuneful and extremely well-rehearsed (what must have been hours and hours of effort shone through on stage.) Choreographer Sian Williams produced three or four absolute showstoppers, all delivered with real heart and conviction by the entire cast. Led by dancers Boe Aston, Ceri Price, Hannah Bratt and Lynne Holloway, it was great to see absolutely everyone giving it both barrels, the dancing extending right to the back of the group. I particularly enjoyed the denizens of the pub reprising ‘Money to Burn’ and espousing ‘The Joy of the Theatre’, whilst the ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ finale was a triumph of timing that would not look out of place on a West End stage.
Scenery was mainly provided by an impressive backdrop which transformed in quick order from a tailor’s shop to a pub to a promenade and more – great work by a very slick backstage team. It was a little disappointing, then, that the front of curtain scenes were not so well realised – of course there are limitations to what can be achieved, but a couple of chairs in front of a blue curtain did not exactly scream ‘posh house’ to me! Costumes were excellent throughout and pleasingly well co-ordinated, and lighting was efficient, despite a couple of mishaps. Finally, credit to Musical Director Sheila Boniface for expertly marshalling a nine-piece Orchestra, and to Director Christopher Hooper, who kept the action flowing very effectively.
Thank you to WODS for welcoming me so warmly to your show, and for delivering a high quality evening full of energy, spirit and joie-de-vivre. Congratulations to you all. All the best for the rest of your run, and I hope to see you again soon.
NODA Regional Representative