Simply wonderful – with plenty of Flash, Bang, Wallop

Half a Sixpence

Chichester Festival Theatre

Tuesday, July 26 2016

What a joyous, end-of the-pier-style, comedy knees-up this is.

Half a Sixpence is based on HG Wells’ semi-autobiographical novel Kipps, this new adaptation by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame, with a new score by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

It’s the story of Edwardian orphan Artie, who leaves his aunt and uncle, along with his sweetheart (giving her half a sixpence to remember him by) to become an apprentice at a draper’s shop in Eastbourne.

One day, thanks to an impresario, he discovers he’s inherited a fortune. He then falls for a posh bird Helen (played by Emma Williams) whose mother (Vivien Parry), come down in the world thanks to a dodgy dead husband, wants to get her hands on his cash. She pushes the well-meaning daughter into agreeing to marry Arthur.

Poor Arthur doesn’t feel comfortable with the upper classes, despite charming ‘em all with his cheeky banjo number at Lady Punnet’s musical evening (hilarious ensemble number here). Meanwhile he spots his childhood sweetheart working as a maid in the posh house. He realises she’s really his sort, but is engaged to posh bird. Then posh bird’s brother embezzles his money so the wedding is called orf, and Artie is free to marry his girl (played by Devon-Elise Johnson). Hooray!

He’s philosophical about his comedown but THEN he discovers the impresario’s play that he invested in when rich has made him a new fortune. Blimey!

But he’s learned his lesson; that it’s better to lark about with the honest working class folk he grew up with, rather than go hoity-toitying about with the gentry, where he don’t belong. Phew!

There’s no real tension in the show, the lyrics and songs are very simple, there’s no subplot, hidden themes or clever twists. It’s wholesome, family cheery fun. Great fun. It barrels along at a fair old lick, with laughs all along the way.

As Kipps, newcomer Charlie Stemp is a real treasure – a sort of Tommy Steele/Lee Evans combo, but more than anything, as Kipps he reminds me of Joey Essex – a simple soul, not all that bright, slightly bewildered in a world of cynicism and aspirations. He’s got more money than he knows what to do with and just wants to be loved and a little bit admired. What a firecracker Charlie is; dancing and singing, grinning and leaping across the stage like a joyful puppy.

The costumes are gorgeous and the set delightful – a rotating stage symbolising Arthur’s life in a spin but serving also to make the show more visible to all sections of the audience without exhausting the cast by making them run around any more than they already did (which was a lot!). I loved the choreography, with masses of flash bang wallop throughout.

This extremely energetic, hard-working cast fully deserved their standing ovation on press night. It’s hard to pick out individual performances to praise because they really were all incredibly good, but I did enjoy the slightly saucy duet between Flo (Bethany Huckle) and Ann in A Little Touch of Happiness, and Gerard Carey’s performance as the swindler brother James at the musical evening, trying desperately to impress on the organ, as well as playing the camp and increasingly drunk photographer in Flash, Bang Wallop.

The show is guaranteed to put a smile on your face – a real summer tonic.

The Company & Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps) in CFT's HALF A SIXPENCE Photo by Manuel Harlan

Countryside awards shortlist announced

A diverse selection of projects across Hampshire have made the shortlist for the tenth annual Countryside Awards.
The awards celebrate a beautiful and living countryside that everyone can value and enjoy and are organised by charity CPRE Hampshire, the Campaign to Protect Rural England in association with The Southern Co-operative.
The Hampshire finalists 2016 by local area and award category are:

East Hampshire, Winchester District and North Hampshire
Community and Voluntary category:

Medstead Village Pond – Medstead Parish Council are creating a central village pond and woodland copse connected to a wildflower walk for children and families.

A Celebration of Petersfield, A Town and its People – The Petersfield Society have created a book which celebrates the life of Petersfield today set within a beautiful landscape in the midst of the South Downs.

 

Rural Enterprise category:

Farley Nursery School at Sparsholt – Farley Nursery School is an outdoor nursery where the children experience the wonders of nature at first hand.

Taste of Wickham is a creative event staged by the Taste of Wickham Organising Team which showcases the market town’s local businesses and organisations and engages people with local produce through tastings, demonstrations and interaction with those working in the industry.

 

Sustainable Buildings category:

Ringbourne Copse in Barton Stacey is part of a new housing development of 19 homes in the village, comprising seven affordable homes providing much needed housing for local people with a connection to the area (Aster Group, Bargate Homes and AAP Architects).

Woodgarth, North Hampshire – a spacious, environmentally sustainable and energy efficient individual house on the site of a large residential plot in North Hampshire (Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt Architects).

New Forest

 

Community and Voluntary category:

The Tiptoe Green in Tiptoe, Lymington – a community project which provides an all-purpose open space for the village and visitors, and conserves and promotes the natural environment.

Young People category:

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have set up a new Young Naturalists Group at Blashford Lakes, Ringwood (photo attached) to inspire and support 13 – 17 year olds who are enthusiastic about nature.

The Woodlander Hoburne Bashley project reconnects young people with the woodlands at Hoburne Bashley in New Milton through education and recreation.

South Hampshire

 

Community and Voluntary category:

Priddy’s Hard Ramparts Heritage Area (PHRHA) is a volunteer project to de-litter, restore, conserve and maintain a formerly derelict ancient monument comprising moated earthwork ramparts and listed buildings. It now provides a biodiverse area of countryside in the heart of Gosport.

The Solent Way Project is run by The Conservation Volunteers with support from Hampshire County Council to improve access along the 60-mile Solent Way footpath. The project has engaged with the community through volunteering opportunities, training and events.

Young People category:

Putting the Fare in Fareham by Wicor Primary School in Portchester (photo attached) – the project aims to engage the children in learning about their natural world, ecology, sustainability, food production and cookery, whilst making it locally relevant.

 

Sustainable Buildings category:

Butser Education CIC, working with the South Downs Coppice and Craft Centre, have created the Chalton Saxon House at Butser Ancient Farm (pictured), Chalton, near Clanfield. The building is composed entirely of natural, renewable materials and showcases traditional rural skills.

Re-development of Park Community School, Havant – a partnership project involving Children’s Services and Property Services at Hampshire County Council to create a learning and community facility in the heart of the local community of Leigh Park, Havant.

Test Valley

Community and Voluntary category:

Andover Trees United ‘In the Community’ project involves as many people as possible through a diverse programme of events linked to the land, how we can care for it and learn from it.

Rural Enterprise category:

The Braishfield Village Pantry (photo attached) is a community hub providing a shop and café in the village hall.

The individual Award category sponsors are Community and Voluntary – The Southern Co-operative, Young People – Steve’s Leaves, Rural Enterprise – Dutton Gregory Solicitors, and Sustainable Buildings – Radian.

Awards judges are visiting all projects this summer before making their decision on the overall winners. All the finalists will be invited to the Countryside Awards Ceremony on September 15, 2016 near Winchester, where the winners will be announced by the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire.

 

 

Butser Ancient Farm, Petersfield - with the Saxon hall taking shape far left

Flat Spaces holiday accommodation has royal visit

HRH Princess Alexandra visited Flat Spaces in Ropley on July 14.

Her Royal Highness was greeted by Mr Tom Yendell and his wife Lucy.  Tom is the Chairman and founder of Flat Spaces Foundation, a charity whose aim is to provide purpose-built, fully-accessible holiday accommodation for those with severe disabilities, along with their their families and carers.

Flat Spaces was featured in the July/August issue of Life in Petersfield.

As a Member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, Tom recognised the un-met demand for such properties, which results in a sizeable section of society feeling unable to travel, he says.

Launched in May 2015; Flat Spaces Hampshire is the first of many identical properties planned around the country.   The  space, facilities and equipment, coupled with full accessibility, enables guests to travel with confidence, knowing their sometimes very complex needs will be met.

 

Also on hand to meet HRH were Cllr Glynis Watts, Director of Flat Spaces; and Trustees of Flat Spaces, including mouth painter and Trustee Rob Trent who exhibited his skills.      Princess Alexandra was presented with a floral image by Tom Yendell, who is also a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists.

Tom  said” “We were extremely honoured that HRH Princess Alexandra found the time in her very busy schedule to visit Flat Spaces, Hampshire.  With the success of our first bungalow showing the great need for properties such as ours, the Foundation is now gearing up to raise the funds for the future Flat Space Holiday homes around the country.”

See  www.flatspaces.co.uk for more information.

HRH in discussion with Cllr Ashcroft, Chairman of EHDC and Tom Yendell
HRH in discussion with Cllr Ashcroft, Chairman of EHDC and Tom Yendell

 

Treated like aristocrats in West Meon

A wonderful evening of fine dining and classic theatre was provided in West Meon in June.

West Meon Theatre presented Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, in the sumptuous Indian tent in the garden of The Thomas Lord pub, following a superb pre-show supper.

We were treated like the aristocracy we were about to watch, dining on delectable foods and wine, handsomely presented, making us feel decadent.

Then we were transported to early twentieth-century Russia – the aristocrats dancing and dining as their money floated away like so much cherry blossom, saddened but bemused at their loss, not really believing society was changing.

Rachel Wells was perfectly cast as the landowner Madame Ranevskaya  – beautiful, benevolent, kindly, and absolutely no understanding of the financial situation she’s in. She swept on and off the set with grace, in some gorgeous costumes, all dancing attendance on her.

Playing Anya her daughter, Anna Gooch was very young and innocent, wafting in and out like her mother; while in contrast, Varya her adopted daughter, played by Becky James, was no-nonsense and fearsome, just a chink in her stoic armour showing as she realises the businessman is not going to propose to her. Her expression had the audience sighing in sympathy.

Picking up much of the humour in the play was Mick Keegan as the silly sentimental chattering Gayev. And the neighbour Pishchik, played by Stuart Forsyth – forever borrowing a bit of money here and there. Along with Yepikhodov, the clumsy, hopeless clerk, played by Glynn Williams, these are sympathetic portrayals – the characters dotty, out of touch, slightly laughable but loveable.

In contrast there is the cynical Charlotta, the German governess, complete with lederhosen and stuffed dog, marching around the set with an air of disgust at the lack of discipline and order. It was another lovely comic performance from Suzanne Hall.

Also lovely was Fi Beresford as the lovelorn and slightly dopey but adorable maid Dunyasha.

The gruff, straight-talking businessman Lopakhin was played by Peter Barber – trying desperately to impress upon the family that change is coming and they need to wake up to it. Petya the perpetual student, played by Crispian Cook, also tries to shake up the family, to no avail. I’d have liked a bit more pace and aggression from both these actors, to get the contrast with the slower dreaminess of the aristocrats. There were times, too, when the set design, its pillars blocking viewpoints, meant the actors had their backs to the audience and, as a result, were a little quiet.

As the underlings, poor old faithful Firs the servant was played by Graham Fathers, while Barry McGonagle played Yasha along the lines of Thomas Barrow in Downton Abbey. Rob Morrish supported the cast in various roles.

The band, Anne Croudass, Julia Richardson, Bernard Sully, led by composer Peter Theobald – were fantastic, setting the scene perfectly.

Chekhov isn’t the easiest playwright to tackle for an amateur group, so hats off to director Mary Dawson for bringing it to West Meon.

Kat Wootton