By: James Banyard, TRP Reviewer
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a warm and gentle comedy featuring an ensemble cast of British and Indian actors. It dramatizes the ups and downs of a group of expatriate British retirees starting a new adventure in Bangalore, India.
Based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, it was also a successful movie. Many people I spoke to in the foyer were there because they love the film. Deborah describes it as a ‘big hearted…feel good film’ and hopes ‘the play makes people feel companioned.’
How well does the emotional heft of the film translate into this touring stage production from director Lucy Bailey? Lucy is a phenomenally experienced director of plays, with the highlight of her career being the world premier of Lessness by Samuel Beckett, which was realised in consultation with the Irish master himself.
The plot wastes no time in getting our group of British expats to the sub-continent and the scenes where Douglas (Paul Nicholas), Evelyn (Tessa Peake Jones), and the others book into their new home, the dilapidated and fast-fading Marigold Hotel, exude warmth and possibility. Everyone genuinely looks like they are having a great time. I feel like joining them for a G&T on the terrace.
Problems, like in all good stories, appear quickly, but our heroes don’t shy away from the fight – from attempts to challenge the Indian caste system, to helping out at one of Bangalore’s famous call centres, the plot, which is faithful to the film, drives forward securely with this experienced cast.
The chemistry between Douglas and Evelyn is palpable from the stalls, while seedy Norman (Graham Seed), Daily Telegraph tucked under his arm, stays just the right side of acceptable. Sonny (Nishad More) is the energetic but harassed only son of Mrs Kapoor (Rekha John-Cheriyan) and their relationship will make you cheer and hold your head in your hands.
Deborah Moggach supplies the script which has a consistently untaxing and friendly tone. No, it isn’t Shakespeare, and relies too often on cliché for the punchline to jokes, but the very best line which gets the biggest laugh of the evening does contain the f-word. I won’t spoil your enjoyment of this well-timed gag.
Original music by seasoned composter Kuljit Bhamra (Bend it like Beckham) is a modern blend of Indian Classical, British Bhangra and Bollywood and features recorded Indian singing, Bansuri Flute, Sitar, and Indian Violin. It is such a shame not to have real musicians sitting in the orchestra pit tonight, so that we may see and hear these beautiful instruments. The score is light and boppy and does a brilliant job of setting the scene in hot and humid Bangalore. Look out for some snazzy bhangra dance scenes.
The hotel is of course a character too. What you see on stage is a weather-worn colonial era building surrounded by lush plants and sun loungers. The electric blue fly catchers are a brilliant piece of detail. The back of the stage is lit enticingly to suggest its situation in the wider city, and sound effects of traffic, cicadas and crowds all add to the dense Indian atmosphere.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a long soak in a warm bath with familiar characters and a friendly tone. The stakes are never high and no one is pushed too far from their comfort zone. It is perfect Sunday evening viewing. If you loved the book and the film, then float on down to the theatre and soak up the bhangra vibe.