Thursday 3 November 2022

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 Curve, Leicester

Wednesday 2nd November 2022

Land of the living dead

Deborah Moggach’s book, These Foolish Things, is perhaps better known for its starry 2011 film adaptation The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which spawned an unlikely reality-tv franchise, and delighted viewers young and old with its ‘fish-out-of-water’ quaintness. Now Moggach adapts her work for a new theatre tour, offering audiences a warming dose of genteel patter amidst sultry tropical climes.

Having recently taken over the family Hotel business in Bangalore, young Sonny hatches a plan to boost income by offering British retirees assisted living accommodation with lashings of sunshine, bottomless gin and tonics and an iffy culinary mix of tikka masala and toad in the hole. When the Brits arrive there’s the usual clash of cultures – the Brits are shocked by the caste system, while the Indians muse upon English rules of politeness – but, predictably, the characters all learn from each other and the experience enriches their lives.

Despite a large cast of characters, I felt that Moggach never really got under their skin, and the result is that most feel underdeveloped and one-note – the anti-woke boor, the glamourous cougar, the holier-than-thou xenophile. This also extends to the depiction of India in the play, which, despite some underpowered attempts to address colonialism, is rather trite and reliant on stereotype. The India presented is one defined by call centres, ‘Delhi-belly’, arranged marriages and a love of cricket – a pretty blinkered and British view of the culture.

Moggach fares better when touching on the poignancies of growing older. The hotel guests feel young at heart, but often speak of society’s tendency to view them as already ‘half-dead’. This theme of trying to recapture youth is more tangibly addressed in Dorothy’s (Richenda Carey) mysterious search for her childhood friend - who turns out to be much closer to home than she’d anticipated. The loneliness of old age is also tenderly explored. At one point Hayley Mills’ Evelyn regrets all the things she never got to talk about with her late husband. The initially timid character has a more natural evolution throughout the play, growing with confidence as she makes friends and learns to express herself. Yet, in her quietly blossoming relationship with Paul Nicholas’ Douglas, the feelings left unspoken between the pair hint once more at the old-fashioned British restraint the OAPs are fleeing from. I enjoyed Mills’ more nuanced performance, which plays nicely on her earnest likability.

While I found The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel rather sedate and over-long (at least 40 minutes could be cut from the running time), I appreciate that I am probably not its target audience. Those around us were audibly enjoying the play, chuckling along in recognition, creating an endearing atmosphere. The production benefits greatly from Colin Richmond’s sumptuous design and Kuljit Bhamra’s original music, which is both upbeat and evocative, making for a sweet and feel-good finale.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel plays at Leicester’s Curve until 5th November as part of an extensive UK and Ireland tour until June 2023, including a run on a transatlantic cruise in December. For further information please visit 

Hayley Mills and Rula Lenska in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Credit: Johan Persson

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