Ahead of this weekend’s Oliviers (where the show is nominated for three awards), we sat down with Half A Sixpence stars Charlie Stemp, Emma Williams and Ian Bartholomew to get the lowdown.
Since its sterling run in Chichester, Half a Sixpence has been wowing audiences with a knock-out show (read our review here) and, as it now plays at the Noel Coward Theatre to sell-out audiences eight shows a week, the stunning musical has been nominated for three Olivier Awards at this year’s bash (Best Actor in Musical, Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical, Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical).
We took the opportunity to sit down with the stars of the show (and the respective nominees) to find out more – and how the nerves ahead of Sunday’s ceremony are holding up!
How does it feel to be nominated for three Olivier Awards?
Charlie Stemp: Like getting a new pair of shoes that are awesome.
Emma Williams: It’s just brilliant. I’m so proud to be a part of this wonderful show and thrilled by the recognition it’s receiving from the industry.
Ian Bartholomew: Yes it does feel pretty good, doesn’t it? It’s great for the three of us and wonderful for the show.
The show originally ran in Chichester – are there any differences between that and the West End production?
CS: Yes, I’d say that the audience in London is more expecting.
EW: The biggest shift is the move from a thrust stage to a proscenium. Interestingly, it’s made the show feel more intimate and engaging.
IB: Not having the audience of three sides means we’ve also had to re-configure much of the show to focus it better for this type of theatre and that’s been really interesting.
This is the first time the show has been in the West End for 50 years, why do you think the story still has such longevity to remain relevant for today’s audiences?
CS: For me it works simply because it is still truly relatable – in every walk of life.
EW: I think it’s because Arthur Kipps is a true everyman. He’s relatable and his struggles with his place and role in society, how others view him and how he views himself are intrinsic to all of us. Aside from that, the re-orchestrated classic songs and reinterpretation of the story, through brilliant new numbers by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and Julian Fellowes’ script, feel fresher, more modern and exciting.
IB: Very simply, it’s a happy show and full of joy. And that never goes out of fashion.
What three words would you use to describe the show to anyone who doesn’t know it?
CS: Let’s go with… fun, Banjo and Wallop!
IB: I’ll take fabulous, fantastic, fun!
EW: How about… Exuberantly joyous fun!
Are there any interesting facts you can share with us about the show or fun things that happen backstage?
CS: I’ve christened my Banjo ‘Babs’, which not many people know. I also have two amazing dressers, Bookie and Ronnie, and we have a daily team dance and play games during quick changes – they keep it fun, interesting and I love them!
EW: Some of the 1911 costumes are actually real clothing from that time! The fabrics are incredibly delicate and our wardrobe team are amazing at maintaining them. Due to the shape of my costumes I have one microphone pack hidden under my wig and one on my ribcage, instead of on my lower back where we usually wear them. And in the Grand Hotel, the snails that we eat aren’t really snails, they’re mushrooms – although at first we tried marshmallows! The carrots are actually carrots, though.
IB: The vicar’s teeth in the show cost £12.67 from an online joke shop – what a bargain!
Tell us a little bit about your character in the show
CS: Arthur Kipps is a bit like me really; he’s a cheeky chappy. Seriously – like Kipps, I’m optimistic, a newcomer overwhelmed with discovering things along the way – but in the end, following his gut instinct, and ultimately his heart.
EW: Helen Walsingham is a young lady from the upper classes of society whose family have fallen a little on hard times due to her father’s lack of monetary capabilities and then death. She’s obligated towards Kipps by her family for financial security, but falls for his honesty and charm in a society built on falseness and duplicity. She teaches woodwork as a hobby and her favourite flowers are iris.
IB: Chitterlow is an actor, playwright, producer and all-round eccentric. One of life’s doers! He’s full of energy and enthusiasm… oh and he’s bonkers, too!’
What’s your favourite song to perform in the show?
CS: I’d say Pick Out a Simple Tune – it’s really great fun.
EW: Probably Believe in Yourself as it has a great message.
IB: The One Who’s Run Away. I get to do a soft shoe shuffle with Charlie Stemp while singing a lovely song. What’s not to love?
Tickets for Half a Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre are on sale now. Get yours via Ticketmaster.co.uk.