The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Deborah Moggach

Director: Lucy Bailey

Leaking, crumbling, past its prime, and with a view that it may not last the season. The titular hotel is in rough shape too.

The guests of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, now an *ahem* “luxury” retirement hotel, are here for one last hurrah as they enter the twilight of life, and why not see it out in the warmth, colour and the adventure of India. Adapted from Deborah Moggach’s novel and taking more than a few inspirations from the film (chiefly its name-heavy cast), Moggach’s return to writing the play offers avenues left unexplored in the previous incarnations of her work, though there’s a comfortable and emanating glow throughout the production, certain avenues are best left to other productions.

Unfortunately, unsavoury elements in the otherwise saccharin flavour of the show come over poorly. It’s largely a comedic piece with elements of melodrama, and the pleasantness and familiarity of these roles aren’t enough to cover it up. The show has tremendous merits in its attempts to bridge the gaps in understanding the caste system, India’s model of ethnographic system-based classification of social standings based on these castes (their roles in life: jobs, status etc).

It’s a feature across the production, where the fruition of ideas never quite matches their intentions. One element which transfers well, if a touch on the nose, is the shift in moving the story to a contemporary one. A world where the bigotry, misunderstandings and grievances of an ageing generation who cannot identify with the youth in their home country, experience a culture shock in India’s family-focused mindset but also in the way the UK has changed (in their mind for the worse). Lucy Bailey’s direction isn’t afraid to hold a mirror to English culture, and its ugly history of colonialism and continued arrogance abroad.

But while inside the Marigold, rather splendidly designed by Colin Richmond, one cannot help being won over by the performances, the visuals, and the emanating vibrancy – the hotel itself a large, space-encompassing design with depth and level thanks to Oliver Fenwick’s lighting.

There’s a large cast residing in the hotel, with Eileen Battye playing a blinder of a role, suitably smug and irritating in moments, but the character’s long list of positives seems oddly at ends with the negatives to truly make her in any way someone to rally against. While her husband Dougie (Paul Nicholas) seems detached from his wife, Nicholson carrying their role with the expectant gravitas, the original Jesus Christ Superstar trading in bare feet for sandals of a different nature here in the Delhi heat.

He’s a match with Evelyn, a de-factor central protagonist for the audience to fall behind. After the passing of her husband, and her children growing and moving away, Tessa Peake-Jones has a place of recognition for the audience (and we don’t just mean her Only Fools and Horses career). It’s a similar situation for thousands of older generations who find themselves alone with regrets of not living more. Well, for Evelyn, the Marigold offers that second chance, and Peake-Jones takes to the part swimmingly – never as brash or comedy-drive as Belinda Lang or Graham Seed, but with plenty of strong line deliveries and a pleasant performance.

Chalk and cheese would find more in common than this pair. Arguably both driven by their carnal desires, they are starkly different in their attitudes and chemistry with the others. Lang’s Madge is, without doubt, the audience favourite throughout the show – a fiery, canny and shrewd woman who embraces age with a steady fist. While Seed’s Norman, an embodiment of the show’s more contemporary setting with GBNews indoctrinated cries of ‘woke’, is more a solo act: though not by choice. His lust for ‘foreign delights’ would be even more humorous if it wasn’t so devastatingly accurate.

Shila Iqbal’s Sahani brings a vibrancy which carries tremendous momentum forward and uplifts the romantic subplot between Sonny and her. There’s genuine chemistry between the beaming, giggling performer who stands toe-to-toe with Peake-Jones and the formidable Rekha John-Cheriyan as Sonny’s mother, who equally gives a performance full of humour and energy. Under his mother’s constant eye, Nishad More’s Sonny drives the lot forward, trying to find solutions to the hotel’s fractures and its guest’s niggles.

Despite some less-than-subtle attempts at nuance, this show is living life to the fullest, regardless of the age or experiences. At its heart, the intention of The Best Exotic Hotel Marigold is admirable, and the rejuvenation it offers to audiences is obvious in the crowds around – gleefully clapping, dancing, and singing along, ready to book their next stay at the Marigold. Just make sure you book your ticket now before that last room sells-out.

Runs until 3 June 2023 | Image: Contibuted

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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