Quick Change Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Tour)
My cold hands clasp a shaken out umbrella whilst I wipe my feet on entry to Curve. Water is dripping from my winter puffer coat and still my hair is stuck with rain to the side of my face. Best believe I was ready to check into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - even at the age of 26.
There’s certainly still life in the franchise. Having started as a novel by Deborah Moggach, we’ve enjoyed the starry film adaptation and sequel, the following TV series and now a brand new play by the author. The story is largely unchanged - a group of retirees from the UK move in to an old hotel in Bangalore ran by a young and slightly frazzled man at a crossroad in his life, Sonny (Nishad More) and his tired but protective mother, Mrs Kapoor (Rekha John-Cherisan) as they attempt to restore the hotel following the death of Sonny’s father.
Photo by Johan Persson
Disappointingly, we don’t see the despair of the hotel - all the problems Sonny promises to fix 'in a jiffy!' - instead, the story exists in the hotel’s garden. The set, designed by Colin Richmond, is at first striking with large pillars and Ivy climbing the walls. However, it quickly becomes restrictive and boring, only changed by moving sun loungers and a string of fairy lights for nightfall. It is we, the audience, who become armchair pensioners that never venture outdoors.
Luckily, the cast are vibrant and play their familiar characters with charm. As an ensemble, they work beautifully together. Hayley Mills leads with elegance as Evelyn and Marlene Sidaway’s tittering about 'Deli belly' makes her journey as Muriel the most interesting. Rula Lenska’s exclamation of “I don’t give a fuck!” is met with almighty applause in appreciation of her glamorous portrayal of Madge, and we manage to find some empathy for divorcee Norman (a frowning Andy de la Tour). At times, they are forced to play a little too into their senior stereotypes - the bitter divorcee, the lonely widower. It’s fine, and it works at face level. But, I’m desperate to know more.
I want to see the rickshaw driver, the clothes being washed in the river, and the temples waiting to be explored.
Instead, we are given a good five minute sketch of the dears photocopying a crossword.
The script, as expected, is often warm and captures the nuance of generational and cultural differences. However, there’s an awful lot of it to move a very simple plot along, and it isn't accompanied by much action at all. There is some commentary on life in the UK (“it’s not the same as it was!”) and the care system we have here, but little conversation about the impact; positive or negative, that followed.
Important references to colonialism and the class system are welcomed however and presented with realism. It is the responsibility of the younger characters; particularly Mrs Kapoor, Sonny and his girlfriend, the excitable and kind girlfriend, Sahani (Shila Iqbal) to teach their seniors about their culture and their challenges. This introduces the supporting characters; Tikal (Anant Varman), a sweep who gets a new turn as a chef, and Jimmy (Harmage Singh Kalirai) a waiter who has a past connection with retiree Dorothy (Richenda Carey).
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is at its best when these characters from all walks of life unite. In one particular charming scene, they film a commercial for the hotel. There’s another comical confrontation about call centres, and a tikka turkey dinner served for Christmas celebrations. Kuljit Bhamra's score is lovely but criminally underused and the sound design fails to transport us to the hustle and bustle of Bangalore.
I had high hopes for my stay at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and whilst the residents and staff are wonderful - I wouldn’t stay again.