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One of my favourite things about January is looking ahead at my new diary and writing in any travel and theatre plans for the upcoming 12 months. Fortunately this year I didn’t have to skip over many pages before I could write my first theatre trip of the year in, as I was invited to the mid-January press night for ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘. Based on the hit film, the stage adaptation was to spend a week at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre from Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st, bringing Deborah Moggach’s vibrant and heartfelt story to life on stage.
I’d watched the film a couple of times between its release and January 2023, largely due to its formidable cast that features Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It is a fun story full of lots of memorable characters, so I was excited to see how the creative team would recreate lively and vibrant Bangalore on stage.
Book, film and stage show
The play and film are both based on the novel ‘These Foolish Things’, but despite this there are significant differences between the film and stage show. The characters are where most of the differences lie and for me, they are the central part of the material, so it was difficult to get behind some of the changes. However, I did try to keep an open mind throughout the show as there were some fantastic performances that altered the focus and theme of the piece when you compare it to the film.
The central theme for the stage adaptation of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is being able to enjoy retirement and navigate a new lease of life when you are getting older. The theme resonates with a lot of people due to its transparent perspective on ageing and this is all the more true without the extravagant filming locations and background performers, as the dialogue plays an even more pivotal role in driving the plot. Frequently the audience hears how the principal characters are adjusting to their new life in India, whilst also learning about their personal struggles as they continue living without their loved ones that have passed.
Sets, staging and on-stage ambiance
The production has one fixed set for the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes production that covers the hotel terrace, lobby and garden. The hotel exterior is lit with fairy lights and during the evening scenes, everything feels so charming and relaxed. You would hardly believe that this is a hotel that is in ruin and chaos, with its calm and cool ambiance!
The call centre scenes take place at the front of the stage with a semi-opaque curtain splitting the two locations. Utilising raised desks, the office environment is simple but creative. It manages to highlight the bustling atmosphere of the office and also facilitate swift and smooth transitions between the two main locations.
Characters and relationships
Hayley Mills leads the production wonderfully as Evelyn: the timid and gracious character that grows in confidence over the course of the story. Evelyn is good friends with fellow residents Madge (Rula Lenska) and Muriel (Marlene Sidaway) and as a group they have such a fun dynamic on stage. Madge is incredibly sassy and has some outrageous one-liners, which earned Lenska some fantastic audience reactions.
Evelyn’s love interest Douglas is played by Paul Nicholas and unlike the film, I really struggled to get behind their blossoming relationship. Unfortunately the plot changes for the stage show took away some of their relationship story, so it was difficult to understand how they had grown together so quickly. The partnership was a sweet addition to the story, but I wasn’t championing the union like I did with the film.
In contrast, I thought that the creative team did such a fantastic job with how they reimagined the character of Sahani (Shila Iqbal). Extremely confident and funny, Sahani’s energetic personality really carried the call centre scenes and you couldn’t help but laugh at how she moaned at boyfriend Sonny’s mummy issues. Shila Iqbal was a standout performer with her dramatic and witty portrayal of the character.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel* is a lively and vibrant comedy, with some beautiful messaging about seizing the day as you get older. Whilst I did not experience quite the same emotional reaction as watching the film, I still very much enjoyed the piece of theatre and thoroughly enjoyed the Indian cultural references, from the sitar music to the traditional dance styles.
The play is based at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday and there are a few remaining tickets on the website. I am very grateful to the Marlowe team for the opportunity to review the play and witness how the beloved tale had been recreated for the medium of theatre.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.