Brownhills Musical Theatre Company There are few companies around today who can boast about being a real family affair, but Brownhills Musical Theatre Company are definitely one of them. Having followed the company for many years it is always lovely to see familiar faces returning again and again on stage, not to mention seeing the generations of performers come up through the ranks as children and grandchildren of longstanding members take to the stage in their turn. Brownhills always combine their adult and young cast as one company, regardless of the show and as a result each annual performance is like a big family reunion. It is perhaps fitting then that they should choose Half A Sixpence as their latest offering - the rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of draper's assistant Arthur Kipps, reunited with his childhood sweetheart Ann just as he inherits a large fortune. The classic musical, synonynous with Tommy Steele in its original incarnation, has been revised and updated in recent years, with an award-winning West End revival drawing rave reviews for its staging and detailed choreography.
For Brownhills, the experience and teamwork of the production team shines through. Director/Choreographer Michele Windsor must be applauded for her own punchy routines and perfect-picture staging. The direction is clear and unfussy throughout, allowing the characters to come through, while the choreography is exciting, fast-paced and fills the stage with great energy. Despite a few initial opening night sound issues, under the steady hand of Musical Director Ian Room, the orchestra is well-balanced and guaranteed to send you out of the theatre with a toe-tapping spring in your step! Together they provide excellent foundations for the company to perform on and the cast certainly do not disappoint.
Leading the company, Brett Dewsbury is a sheer delight as Arthur Kipps, finding the perfect balance between comedy and pathos in the cheeky chappy character. He shows excellent comic timing, dance ability and handles the varying score with ease - a real triple-threat performer! Phillippa Mills gives a beautifully poised performance as Helen Walsingham, with a clear-cut accent and quiet emotion bringing real weight to a role that can often be overplayed in the wrong hands. She really makes this role of Kipps' second love interest her own and is the perfect contrast to the fiesty Ann, played with great zest by Sian Cameron. In this, her first leading lady role, Sian relishes every aspect of her performance and shows a great transition from the giggly young sweetheart to wise wife as the show progresses. With a beautiful, controlled voice and passionate delivery throughout, I am sure this paves the way for more leading roles in the future.
Supporting this trio; Neil Horne is wonderfully exuberant and zany as Chitterlow, Dave Oakley a suitably serious Mr Shalford and there are stand out performances from shop staff Louise Hewitt and Harry Simkin, who both drew attention for their energy and expression in company numbers.
The company excel in the big show piece numbers, with Flash, Bang, Wallop a real crowd pleaser, and thanks to the excellent attention to detail in the costumes they look great! There are a couple of odd make-up choices apparent onstage which are a little unnecessary in a space the size of the Garrick and which detract from performances somewhat, but as with the few hesitant niggles that were apparent on opening night, perhaps these can be toned down and blended a little through the week. Overall BMTC have created a cheery, family-led production and it would be a shame if they didn't see fuller houses as the week progresses.
Well done BMTC - another one to stick in the family album!
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