Bangalore came to Bromley on 19th October, and remains there until 22nd October 2022, with the stage production of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Despite our having heard Rula Lenska – playing Madge – tell us when interviewed for the Bromley Buzz podcast – listen here – that she loves the whole experience, we wondered, would we? Just how do you excite an audience by presenting a group of British retirees going to put their feet up in an Indian retirement hotel?
The fact that this is based on a book and two successful films is evidence that excitement could be forthcoming, and it was.
First, it turns out, you start to excite the audience by having delightful comic prelude by a couple of the actors. Then, shortly after, you make their jaws drop by revealing a stage set that can only be described as gorgeous and that really can make you think you’re in a dilapidated hotel in Bangalore.
Feed in a series of varied and evocative Indian tunes that deepen the experience further, and the Indian scene is set. Then you introduce the largely ageing cast, but one whose age is an asset as well as being essential to the plot. There are hundreds of years of acting experience on the stage, and that shows! Their ability to time and deliver killer lines and draw sympathy and love from the audience is a credit to that experience.
Add character development and some marvellous characters – man-mad Madge, perky Muriel (Marlene Sidaway), naughty Norman (Andy De La Tour), troubled couple Douglas (Paul Nicholas) and Jean (Eileen Battye), widow Evelyn (Hayley Mills), the whimsical Dorothy (Richendra Carey), and you’re in business. Yet that is only half the story.
Let’s return to the earlier question: just how do you excite an audience by presenting a group of British retirees going to put their feet up in an Indian retirement hotel?
One way is by making the hotel staff and other Indian parts as important, engaging and loveable as the British guests, and the production does that. You end up wrapped up in the fate of every character and of the hotel itself. It also makes you think about age and life and values, as we found listening to conversations around the audience.
The Indian hotel (and call centre, a story in itself) staff really shine, with the very Indian mother Mrs Kapoor (Rekha John-Cheriyan), her son Sonny (Nishad More), the vivacious Sahani (Shila Iqbal), Mr Gupta (Tiran Aakel), Kamila (Kerena Jagpal), and Harmage Singh Kalirai – who has three wonderful roles. We don’t like to turn a review into a full cast list, but this cast gave us no other option. Anant Varman was making his professional UK stage debut as Mohan/Tikal, and in some respects he was playing a role as an outcast, but he played it with a charm and wit that suited the show beautifully.
Talking of shining, that is exactly what this show does more and more, adding even more lush stage scenery and costumes (just see what Douglas, Sahani and Kamila have to wear at the end) as it goes along. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel concludes by adding a dimension that I won’t even spell out – it should be kept a surprise.
We loved it. So did the cheering, heavily clapping audience at the end.
Also, do check out the charity that Hayley Mills is an Ambassador for: https://campsite.bio/visionfoundation
Darren and Jacqui Weale