North WestReview

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Liverpool Playhouse

Reviewer: Brian Gorman

Writer: Deborah Moggach

Director: Lucy Bailey

There have been two hugely successful films, starring a cast of National Treasures, addressing universal themes of mortality, love, unfulfilled lives, and the nature of fate versus destiny. These films are popular. They have wonderful performances. And, via the magic of cinema, they have gusto! Pace! Life! Translated to the stage, that energy seems to be lost, tonight.
Yes, there is a great set by Colin Richmond – a decaying, once elegant, Indian hotel. Yes, there is a great cast – the immortal Paul Nicholas, etc. But, what’s it all about? We’re all going to die! We’re all going to get old (if we’re lucky)! We’re going to experience all the embarrassing, and socially unwelcoming habits, rituals, and tics of old age. Does this play delve into the collective psyche of us mere mortals? Does it slowly, delicately peel away the characters’ layers? Is it possible to just stick a group of seasoned thesps on to a stage, and hope for magic? Give them a few vaguely humorous one-liners, here and there, and rely on the audience to guffaw and chuckle along. Well, maybe. We shall see.Surely, Deborah Moggach’s adaptation of her own best selling book, and film, will work well on stage, won’t it?
The story of a group of middle-class crumblies flying to India, to take up residence in a hotel past its sell-by date should be a great premise for a bittersweet comedy. But, what have we here? Oh, a REALLY old lady who’s a bit tetchy and averse to foreign food. Oh, a groovy, seen-better-days sex kitten. Oh, a lecherous, cricket-loving bore. Oh, a mousey, meek, badly-dressed maiden who we just KNOW is going to blossom. All the stereotypes are here, and we know exactly how everything is going to pan out. The golden oldies come together, initially get on each other’s nerves, then slowly begin to bond. Cue the cliches. Set – great. Lighting (by Oliver Fenwick) – great. Acting – decent/perfunctory. Direction (by Lucy Bailey) – efficient. Finale – oh god!!!!! They sing! They dance!! Surely, the audience can’t take anymore.
Ok, some positive notes: Belinda Lang as Madge looks amazing, and truly encapsulates the horny older woman, desperate for a man (any man). She gets a smattering of applause each time she appears in a new slinky outfit. Paul Nicholas is oddly subdued, and relaxed as the much put-upon Douglas. His character is portrayed as the hen-pecked husband, continually deferring to his shallow-minded wife, Jean (nicely played by Julie Wood). But, Nicholas just stands there. He looks lost. Is this his character? If it is, he’s exhibiting a subtlety that is several parallel worlds beyond his fellow cast members.
Tessa Peake-Jones as the timid (yes, she eventually emerges from her shell!) Evelyn is pretty good. She works with the material, but she’s on a road to nowhere. Unfortunately, Douglas and Evelyn’s blossoming romance is beyond parody. Graham Seed is effectively amusing, and irritating, as the arrogant Norman. A dreadful little Englander desperate for a bit of foreign crumpet. Again, a case of a good actor doing what he can with the froth he’s been asked to churn into something resembling Lurpak. Rekha John-Cheriyan as the tough-minded, scheming Mrs Kapoor (owner of the hotel) is quite wonderful. Balancing the role of the over-bearing mother and upwardly mobile businesswoman, she seems to relish her role.
Nishad More, as her hard-working, loyal, and ridiculously energetic offspring, Sonny, is perfect. His energy keeping the show trundling along, when it often seems to be dangerously shuddering to a depressing halt. Tiran Aakel as the slave-driving call centre owner, Mr Gupta, shines in his small but effective scenes. Marlene Sidaway as the grumpy, common-as-muck Muriel manages to evolve from a basic Eastenders sadsack, into a quite impressive, multi-dimensional character, but is saddled with the most lowbrow one-liners. Paola Dionisotti plays the supremely enigmatic ‘Dotty’. This character drifts in and out of the action, and seems pretty unremarkable, before taking centre stage in the final scenes, and revealing themselves to be the living embodiment of the central theme of the play.
As the show meanders toward its cringingly inevitable conclusion, the audience braces itself for a heavy shower of patronising, unadulterated saccharin , before eventually escaping on to the damp and welcoming pavements of rain-drenched Liverpool. The grey, foreboding streets, and light drizzle, providing a welcome release.
Reviewed on 22 March 2023
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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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