Charlie Stemp on his dizzying rise to the top of the theatre world

He’s the 22-year-old prodigy who wowed Cameron Mackintosh so much he was cast as lead in his revival of ‘Half A Sixpence’. Name-to-watch Charlie Stemp talks about staying grounded on his way to the top
Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps in 'Half a Sixpence' © Manuel Harlan
Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps in 'Half a Sixpence' © Manuel Harlan
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You had to audition 11 times for the role of rags-to-riches-to-rags hero Arthur Kipps. That sounds awful. ‘Bake Off’ only has ten rounds!

‘You say awful. Auditions can vary from “okay we’re going to give you three minutes to make up your own dance” – which is HELL – to you doing something you genuinely enjoy doing. My first audition was the hardest I’d ever done, physically, but also relaxing in a way as the choreographer had seen me do “Half a Sixpence” at college.’

Did you not want to kill somebody somewhere around round eight?

‘I became more excited. I was only ever up to possibly understudy the lead and somewhere along the line I thought: something isn’t right. Eventually my agent called me and asked where I was and I said, ‘I’m at my nan’s house having shepherd’s pie” and he said no you’re not, come to London. I was like “but shepherd’s pie!” and he was like, no, come to The Ivy and he sat me down and said, “you didn’t get the cover” and I was like “NOOO” and he said you got the part.’ 

“Jesse

© Matt Crockett

It’s a story about a young man dealing with success that has turned you into a young man dealing with success – does one inform the other?

‘That’s a brilliant way to put it, but Arthur Kipps is taken advantage of and that hasn’t happened to me, yet. He gets all this money and he doesn’t know what to do with it. He’s a man after my own heart. I always end up just treating my mum.’ 

It’s an old-fashioned musical in a lot of respects: as the star – but also as a 22-year-old – why revive it now?

‘It has not been the happiest year, has it? It’s all about putting a smile on your face and telling you to be yourself and not let money define you.’

“Jesse

Gerard Carey as James Walsingham and Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps in 'Half a Sixpence'. © Manuel Harlan

Has all this gone to your head yet?

‘My family are very good at keeping me grounded. My granddad came to watch the show and I said: “Granddad, did you enjoy it?” And he said, “yeah” and I said, “which bit was your favourite?” And he went “the interval”’.

What’s next?

‘I’m not sure! For now I just want to enjoy being a 22-year-old boy in a ridiculously big dressing room.’ 

'Half a Sixpence' is at the Noel Coward Theatre until Feb 11 2017.

On Thursday Nov 17 Time Out's Facebook page will be live streaming the star-studded red carpet for the opening night of ‘Half A Sixpence’ from 7pm, and then again at 10pm for a live stream of the show’s finale, including the show-stopping number ‘Flash Bang Wallop’.

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