A lot has changed since Deborah Moggach first introduced us to retirement Indian-style.
For one, her 2004 best-selling novel These Foolish Things has become a phenomenon; changing both how we view old age and how Hollywood views it. Under a new name, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel the story as a film became an even bigger hit, with all-star cast including, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy. There was more to come on the big screen with Hollywood A-listers, such as Richard Gere stepping in to join the party for a sequel. And TV celebrities jumped in too with a reality show spin off The Real Marigold Hotel.
This new stage version, written by Moggach, keeps all the familiar characters and essential ingredients fans will be expecting. There are tweaks to the story to bring it up to speed with the 2020s, but thankfully, aside from a passing remark about Zoom, the play is a pandemic-free zone.
It opens with young Indian hotel owner, Sonny (a likeable Nishad More) voicing an idea to save his failing business in Bagalore. If Britain is outsourcing everything else, then why not its elderly?
Next stop the airport, as Sonny’s dream becomes a reality with the arrival of his first 70-something guests who, for a variety of different reasons, have left behind all they knew for an exotic retirement in the sun.
Colin Richmond’s layered set puts us inside the now dilapidated hotel, with grand arch ways, covered terraces and dramatic staircase pointing to a much grander past.
Overhead the constant spin of a ceiling fan give a sense of the tropical heat, while a further sense of place is created with original music by Kuljit Bhamra and the vibrancy with which the characters describe their experiences of food, people, and the sights of the city.
Stereotypes of older people are among the hardest to shift and this story continues to challenge traditional views. As curmudgeon, Norman (Andy De La Tour) reminds us: this is the generation that grew up dancing to The Rolling Stones. And he’s not the only one growing old disgracefully. Rula Lenska’s Madge screams every inch the 60’s rock siren as she swishes her flaming bouffant hair above an off-the-shoulder diamante-studded top. Hayley Mills is wonderful as the unassuming and sheltered, Evelyn who grows in confidence as her new adventures unfold; while Marlene Sidaway brings a genuine earthiness to moaning Muriel. As in the film, it is the well-crafted performances that draw us in and make us care about this hotel and its inhabitants.
Lucy Bailey’s direction guides the comedy along gently, but in parts her leisurely pace and pauses sometimes leave spaces that can slip into melancholy.
On the whole, however, it is an optimistic evening that highlights it is never too late for adventure and more importantly the world works best when all people, young and old, east and west come together and share ideas.