THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 29th March 2023
Deborah Moggach adapts her own novel for the stage, a story of British retirees retiring to a ‘retirement hotel’ in Bangalore. They’re a motley bunch, each with their own reason for leaving Blighty behind. We see them arrive, have teething problems, settle in, and ultimately fight for the hotel’s survival. Along the way, they touch upon the caste system, colonialism, arranged marriages… but nothing is dealt with in any depth. This is a comedy above all, and its socio-historic setting is kept below the surface.
Running the hotel are Sonny (Nishad More) and his widowed mother (Rekha John-Cheriyan) Together and separately, they are funny without resorting to stereotype, while the Brits on the other hand are prone to archetypes: the gold-digging cougar (Belinda Lang), the Tory with problematic views (Graham Seed)… There are a lot of characters to get to know, so the shorthand works until we get a handle on them as individuals. Lang is very good, by the way, with some of the funniest lines delivered with superb timing and intonation. Seed convinces too. They all do, but you get the idea that the roles aren’t exactly a stretch for any of them.
The mighty Paola Dionisotti flits around as Dorothy, bringing a faint touch of mystery: is her behaviour due to the onset of Alzheimer’s or is there another reason? Tessa Peake-Jones is thoroughly pleasant as widow Evelyn, who takes the workers at a nearby call centre under her wing, a kind of benevolent colonialism. Paul Nicholas lends his sonorous tones to the well-travelled Douglas, finally coming to the end of his tether with overbearing wife Jane (Eileen Battye); Marlene Sidaway’s retired cleaner Muriel overrides the caste system by establishing a friendship with floor-sweeper Tikal (Anant Varman). There’s a spot of star-cross’d lovers with Sonny and call-centre girl Sahani (Shila Iqbal) but on the whole, what tension there is is pretty light. Their problems are easily resolved, it seems.
We spend a lot of the evening wondering who is going to pop their clogs, and when it eventually happens, it’s nicely handled, but there’s no real emotional punch.
It’s a pleasant evening at the theatre, spent in the safe hands of an effective ensemble. The second act is a bit too long and could do with trimming. It’s amusing rather than hilarious, touching rather than moving. A korma of a play rather than a madras.
☆ ☆ ☆