Mrs Henderson Presents… one of the most uplifting British musicals to grace London’s West End in recent years.
Based on the 2005 Oscar-nominated film, the Noël Coward Theatre is transformed into the Windmill Theatre for this old-fashioned but uplifting ‘revudeville’ about the beginning success of the theatre and its naked female performers. The performance style is undeniably British, not shying away from its patriotism, flags galore, farcical humour and a whole lot of one-liner jokes, told by the lacklustre Jamie Foreman.
It is old-fashioned from the get-go in its musicality and humour, but luckily leaning towards a nostalgic direction rather than seeming unoriginal. There are some genuine laugh-out moments from the banter between Ian Bartholomew, as the theatre manager Vivian Van Damm and the delightful Tracie Bennett, as Mrs Henderson. Others might criticise Bennett for being cast as too young for the role. However, I argue, as she sang in her standout song, ‘Whatever Time I Have,’ ‘there is no law that says you have to act your age.’ Her brassy personality differs to Dench’s dry-humoured portrayal in the 2005 film. Whether this production could keep interest for the duration without Bennett’s dynamite character is questionable.
George Fenton & Don Black’s songs also thankfully have a genuine memorability factor. Their well structured melodies and witty lyrics are particularly shown in the clever rhyming scheme in ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Song’. The other standout is the closer ‘If Mountains Were Easy To Climb’, an inspired ballad by the incomparable Emma Williams, who’s rags to riches story becoming the leading lady in Henderson’s revues is a joy to watch. The last British musical I remember truly enjoying was Made in Dagenham, with Gemma Arterton’s performance and feisty character, in that bearing some similarities with Williams.
Mrs Henderson Presents… knows how British it is. It knows how old-fashioned and vintage it is. But that’s why it works — it is confident in its style, its humour and takes full grasp of it with the entire company relishing in its jollity. Safe, perhaps, but ultimately this is an incredibly joyous night out.
Reviewed by Jack Grey
Photo: Paul Coltas
Mrs Henderson Presents is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 18 June. Tickets here