In 2005, Stephen Frears directed the charming war-time tale of the Windmill Theatre in the British-made movie Mrs Henderson Presents. It starred Judi Dench as the eponymous widow and Bob Hoskins as her collaborator Vivian Van Damm. The film was fairly well received, even garnering two Oscar nominations, and now, little over a decade later, it has been adapted for the stage.
Terry Johnson’s book is solid, with good gags and a solid sense of momentum through the first act although I might have appreciated a little more drive through the second act. Music (George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain) and lyrics (Don Black) are rich with a real sense of music hall nostalgia but unfortunately the show lacks any ear-worms to carry the audience out of the theatre at the end of the night.
The show follows the story of Mrs Laura Henderson, a woman who was recently widowed and decides to use her considerable fortune to purchase and reopen the recently closed Windmill Theatre. After hiring Van Damm to help manage her new business and realising it may not be as straight-forward as she had first hoped, Mrs Henderson happens upon the idea of what she deems ‘nude tableaux’.
The show opens with a short introduction from Arthur, the Windmill’s resident wisecracker, as played by Jamie Foreman. Arthur appears throughout the show to make sure we’re following the story which is particularly helpful as the show tends to jump forward a few months/years on a couple of occasions. Whilst Arthur’s comedy goes down a treat, I wondered whether there might be a smoother way to make these transitions.
Tracie Bennett leads the cast with aplomb and her Mrs Henderson is a delight to watch, rich of voice and youthful of spirit, and Ian Bartholomew is every bit her equal, as Van Damm. His Vivian is strict but with enough of a wry smile to let you know he does genuinely care. Bartholomew particularly shines in the emotive ‘Living in a Dream World’.
Emma Williams as Maureen, tea girl turned Venus de Milo, leads the Windmill Girls with confidence and a beautiful voice, highlighted wonderfully in ‘If Mountains Were Easy to Climb’. Her coupling with Matthew Malthouse as Eddie is suitably adorable and the pair have a lovely chemistry, especially through Malthouse’s early act one ballad.
Katie Bernstein, Lizzy Connolly and Lauren Hood make up the rest of as Peggy, Doris and Vera respectively, each bringing humour and charm to the strong cast. For me, Samuel Holmes, as song and dance man Bertie, steals the show with his fantastic expressions alone, not to mention his tapping and a lovely lyrical voice.
Overall, whilst I enjoyed the little journey into history this show offered, I did leave wondering whether the production was a result of the nudity or the other way round.
Whilst tasteful, the nudity did seem to be a talking point amongst a number of the audience in my vicinity and I would worry that any possible discussion of taste surrounding it might overshadow what is ultimately a pleasant show and an enjoyable evening.
Review by Ben Powell
Mrs Henderson Presents at the Noel Coward Theatre
Don’t miss Mrs Henderson Presents, the hilarious, brand-new, five-star musical that’s had critics in raptures, as it makes its West End debut in February 2016. Based on the much-loved film that starred Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, the show’s run at the Theatre Royal Bath was hailed by the Guardian as “a shot in the arm for the British musical” and led Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail to exclaim, “I have not emerged from the theatre feeling quite so cheerful in a long time”.
It’s London, 1937, and recently-widowed eccentric, Laura Henderson, is looking for a way of spending her time and money when her attention falls on a run-down former cinema in Great Windmill Street. Hiring feisty impresario Vivian Van Damm to look after the newly renovated Windmill Theatre, the improbable duo present a bill of non-stop variety acts. But as war looms something more is required to boost morale and box office… When Mrs Henderson comes up with the idea of The Windmill Girls – glamorous young women posing as nude statues – audiences flock. And as the Blitz hits London, The Windmill provides a refuge for all, boasting the spirit-raising slogan “We Never Close”.
With book and direction by the Tony Award-winning Terry Johnson (La Cage Aux Folles), lyrics by the multi-award-winning Don Black (Sunset Boulevard) and music by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain, this glorious and heartwarming new production stars Tracie Bennett (Les Misérables, End of the Rainbow, ITV’s Coronation Street), Olivier-nominated Ian Bartholomew (Into the Woods) and Emma Williams (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).
Age Restrictions: Please note that an age restriction is not in place for this production.
Booking Until: 18th June 2016
Contains scenes of nudity.
Evenings: Monday, Wednesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm