The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

DEBORAH Moggach’s 2004 book These Foolish Things was famously adapted for the screen as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a star-studded smash hit in 2011.

Now the writer has returned to the story of retired English making a new home in India, and created a stage play that brings references to England right up to the early 2020s – and oh how the tech has changed!

The touring production is visiting 33 theatres around the UK between September 2022 and June 2023, and is in Bath this week – from where it takes the show on an excitingly different voyage, via the Queen Mary 2, from Southampton to New York.

Bath Theatre Royal was packed for the opening night, and the audience seemed delighted with the heart-warming, funny and poignant version of the story, performed by some very well known actors “of a certain age.” Certainly the references to children in England leaving parents to fend for themselves drew some wry, low-key laughs.

Most were probably familiar with the film, much streamed during lockdown. How would they manage the set, with a story starting in the UK, moving to a run down palace in Bangalore, with its teeming streets and its call centre?  Colin Richmond’s set and costumes, with Kuljit Bhamra’s magnetic music, capture the spirit of place perfectly, and the amputation of the English scenes doesn’t detract from the story at all.

As Rula Lenska’s Madge Rheinhart colourfully says, the emigrees’ journey was about “adventure before dementia.”

Hayley Mills steps (rather quietly) into the Judi Dench role of Evelyn, with Paul Nicholas touchingly playing Douglas, the man falling out of love with his increasingly strident and judgemental wife (Eileen Battye).  You can’t out Maggie Smith Maggie Smith, so Marlene Sidaway’s Muriel doesn’t even try, instead creating a different and very lovable former cleaner.

The biggest changes from the film come from Norman, here played by Andy de la Tour as a lusty chancer with a heart of gold and a brain of an accountant, and from Dorothy (Richenda Carey) who was Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) in the film.

Rekha John-Cheriyan is a manipulative Indian mother whose attitudes are changed by her new house-guests and Nishad More is the perfect Sonny.

There have been criticisms about the sound system for the touring show, and the problems continued at Bath.

It would be very easy to dismiss this lovely, colourful adaptation as suitable for older audiences in the provinces, but it’s much more than that. We have never needed life-affirming, warm-hearted reassurance more than after Covid and the political and social maelstrom of recent months, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a very good place to start.


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