Based on the book, and subsequently a film, the heart-warming story of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has made it to the stage as a poignant comedy all about overcoming the curved balls that life throw at you as you get older, and showing it is possible to find happiness in circumstances which at first seemed the least likely to raise a smile. A group of disparate retirees meet on a journey to India, each with a different reason for travelling but all have replied to an on-line advertisement for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Who could resist a name like that? Even if on arrival much is not as lavishly described in the advertisement. Hayley Mills, Paul Nicholas and Rula Lenska head the cast bringing their long experience and expertise to the characters and it’s a delight to watch.
Nishad More opens the play as Sonny Kapoor, comforting his mother Rekha John-Cheriyan as the wonderfully histrionic matriarch who owns the crumbling ruin of a hotel with no guests, with his great idea to re-open it as a retirement home for elderly English people, after all he says, it’s a well- known fact that besides their good manners the English throw out their old people! A home truth which promoted the first of a great deal of laughter from the audience.
Paul Nicholas plays Douglas, downtrodden husband to the domineering Jean, Eileen Battye in splendid battle axe mode, and Hayley Mills as Evelyn, the softly spoken home counties widow who surprises herself by being made of sterner stuff. Rula Lenska is made for the part of Madge, who is glamorous, sexy, divorced and on the look-out for a wealthy Maharaja. Muriel who tired of waiting for a hip operation opted for Bangalore over Balham to put her on the road to mobility again and has a surprise or two up her sleeve – Marlene Sidaway is great in this role of the feisty cockney who even takes a stand against the caste system. Norman is allegedly a widower who’s come to India as he’s heard the ladies there like an older man; played by Andy de la Tour with just the right kind of brash objectionableness that clearly hides a kind heart that has been hurt. Richenda Carey as Dorothy (or Dottie to her friends) has returned to the place of her childhood looking for comfort in her last years, completes the group.
The set is beautifully lit and the music creates the exotic atmosphere of India very well; we loved the Bollywood ending with a traditional Indian wedding and great dancing led by Shila Iqbal as Sahani, Sonny’s girlfriend and Kerena Jagpal as Kamila. It’s a lively show, full of surprises and we enjoyed it from beginning to end.