Press Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at The Alexandra Theatre

Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things which inspired the hit 2011 movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel arrived at The Alexandra Theatre this week. 

With an all-star cast including Hayley Mills (yes, THE Hayley Mills), Paul Nicholas, Rula Lenska (I was genuinely star-struck), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story of an eclectic group of British retirees who travel to India in an attempt to embark on a new life. Their hotel, owned by the formidable Mrs Kapoor (Reka John-Cheriyan) and her son, Sonny (Nishad More) is far from the opulence that was promised, falling into an ever-increasing state of disrepair as the retirees try to adjust to the cultural differences around them. 

There are multiple sub-plots that interweave beautifully around each other as the play progresses, with each of the characters having their own story to tell that range from grief, loss and estrangement to hope and new-found love. It’s rare that each character in a show is as memorable and important as the next, but with such a heavily accomplished and talented cast it is impossible to single out any that stood above the rest. 

The retirees are all wonderful – Hayley Mills is warm and sweet as Evelyn, exuding so much chemistry with Paul Nicholas in the role of Douglas that we were actively willing them to become a couple, in spite of the fact that Douglas is married. This is helped enormously by Eileen Battye’s fabulous portrayal of his rather loathsome and opinionated wife Jean. Madge (Rula Lenska) was feisty and funny, dropping the F Bomb with such enthusiasm that the audience clapped and cheered. Norman (Andy de la Tour) and Muriel (Marlene Sideaway) provide many of the comic moments while highlighting the still prevalent undertones of colonialism and racism within modern society. Dorothy (Richenda Carey) is initially reserved and elusive, her character’s story becoming one of the biggest reveals as the play progresses.

Similarly, there is an equally strong cast of Indian actors who were a joy to watch. The optimistic Sonny (played by the SUPERB Nishad More) is desperate to make the hotel a success while under pressure from his girlfriend Sahani (Shila Iqbal) to reveal their relationship to his overbearing mother Mrs Kapoor, and the interactions between them are wonderful. Reka John-Cheriyan plays the ‘stereotypical’ Asian mother to perfection, managing to be both extremely loving and manipulative at the same time and her use of comic timing was on point. Hotel employee Jimmy (Kriss Dosanijh) was humble and endearing, and in contrast the call centre owner Mr Gupta (Tiran Aakel) was cold and ruthless. The younger members of the cast (Kerenga Jagpal and Anant Varman) bring an additional energy as we find out more about their roles in a call centre, with the additional humour as they reveal their ‘English’ names during calls, and we find out more about the Caste system as we watch house cleaner Tikal (also played by Anant Varman) referred to as ‘untouchable’ because of his lower caste.

The set was stunning. With a static main set of both interior and exterior colonial-asian architecture, there was little movement aside from occasional tables and chairs to represent the call centre and the addition of fairy lights, with different focal points to demonstrate a change in location, and it was cleverly done. 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is extremely well-written and is performed beautifully, managing to be endearing and funny while managing to address the relevant topics of race and the caste system and examine the cultural differences between the two groups. One of my favourite plays I’ve seen in recent years – and definitely worth a watch.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on stage at The Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 25th February. Purchase your tickets here!

Photo Credits: Johan Persson