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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ‘a sweet play, adroitly performed’

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Being old is for sissies says a character in this play at Cambridge Arts Theatre, which is about having adventures after everyone thinks you have had your last outing.

Seven pensioners, four women and two men, including one married couple, move to a retirement hotel in India, which has opened its doors to the elderly as a final attempt to save the crumbling business.

As the play opens, Sonny Kapoor, (Nishad More) faced with rescuing the hotel after the death of his father, tells his distraught mother (Rekha John-Cheriyan) “In England, they don’t like old people cluttering up the place.”

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL by MOGGACH, , writer – DEBORAH MOGGACH based on the film and novel,
Lucy Bailey – Director, Colin Richmond – Set & Costume Design, Oliver Fenwick – Lighting Design
Kuljit Bhamra – Original Musical Composition
Uk tour 2020, Credit: Johan Persson/

But when the guests arrive, they are all such different characters that there is an element of Sartre’s “Hell is other people.”

Rula Lenska is majestic as the forthright Madge – who makes no bones about the fact that she is out to find a man.

She says the National Trust should cull all the surplus women you find in England once you get past 60. “There are 700 million men in India – one must fit the bill”.

Her character is a lovely contrast with the insufferably smug married Muriel played by Marlene Sidaway. (Her daughter is a barrister – we all know someone like her).

Eileen Battye is a delight as Jean the down to earth Londoner – sent there by the council – who is outraged by the caste system – and the pretentiousness of some of her companions.

Not quite Catherine Tate’s nan (she does not swear) but out of the same stable. A more refined and compassionate version.

Hayley Mills glides delicately through the show as the genteel English woman who on reinventing her life in a new country, surprises herself by finding her voice.

There are strong performances from the rest of the cast, Paul Nicholas as Muriel’s reluctant husband – and Kerena Jagpal, Anant Varman and Shila Iqbal who play the staff of a call centre with Anant Jagpal also playing the “untouchable” floor sweeper and Shila Iqbal’s character also being young hotel owner, Sonny Kapoor’s love interest. I loved her dancing at the end.

The play has been written by Deborah Moggach, who wrote the book These Foolish Things published in 2004, which inspired the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2011 – which in turn has led to several television series about elderly travelling to India.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL by MOGGACH, , writer – DEBORAH MOGGACH based on the film and novel,
Lucy Bailey – Director, Colin Richmond – Set & Costume Design, Oliver Fenwick – Lighting Design
Kuljit Bhamra – Original Musical Composition
Uk tour 2020, Credit: Johan Persson/

It is a hard act to follow – a play following a film, which followed a book. There can be few surprises left for the audience.

Yet at Cambridge Arts Theatre, a cast of celebrated actors have the panache and comic timing to give the show a fast pace and laughs all the way through.

This is a sweet play, adroitly performed and in these capable hands an entertaining evening.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 26.

 

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