Browse reviews

Brighton Year-Round 2022

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Simon Friend in association with Jenny King Trafalgar Theatre Productions, Gavin Kalin and Daniel Adkin

Genre: Adaptation, Comedy, Contemporary, Drama, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

Adapted from her novel by Deborah Moggach, and Directed by Lucy Bailey, Set and Costumer Designer Colin Richmond, Composer Kuljit Bhamra MBE, Lighting Designer Oliver Fenwick, Sound Designer Mic Pool, Movement Director Lucy Hind, Costume Supervisor Chris Cahill, Props Supervisor Lizzie Frankl for PropWorks, Casting Director Ginny Schiller CDG, Associate Director Breman Rajkumur

Production Manager Digby Robinson, Marketing Maidwell Marketing, General Management Hanna Osmolska for Simon Friend Entertainment, Press Relations Story House PR.

Till September 24th and touring


She remembers her book differently. Novelist Deborah Moggach adapts her 2004 These Foolish Things now known (as here) as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; which differs from Ol Parker’s 2011 screenplay and Moggach’s own book. Moggach shrewdly uses Parker’s screenplay as feedback, tweaks the story again. It’s different from either.

Featuring Hayley Mills, Paul Nicholas, Rula Lenska, Richenda Carey, Yiran Aakel and Andy De La Tour, nearly all on sparkling form, its biggest star – dare one say it – is the best exotic set to strike up on the Theatre Royal Brighton for many years, by Colin Richmond.

Billed as a ‘joyous, feel-good comedy about taking risks, finding love and embracing second chances, even in the most surprising of places’ it’s a more troubling piece. In fact it raises questions blithely ignored by book and film, and also (clearly in the book, and here) sharpens the story of assorted retirees moving to Banglaore (Bengaluru, south-west India) ‘outsourced’ by children and global capitalism: their savings shrunk, a cheap-living exotic hotel with no arthritic twinges seems like heaven before heaven, where old people are (we’re told) no longer invisible, but revered. It isn’t, especially if you’re Indian.

Directed by Lucy Bailey – whose previous work, a Globe Much Ado, is the finest Shakespeare production this year and worth catching till late October – it feels massy, weighed with 14 actors all needing their place in the beating sun. At two-and-a-half hours, this production seems impressed less with Bailey’s shaping and pace than her Globe’s; and surrenders – especially in the first half – to a languor seeping from the magnificent set. Things pick up though: the longer second act seems far swifter than the shorter opening.

Richmond gives an edge-on  portico, foyer and rich empire interior and arches with roof, parquet floor and a gallimaufry of hotel bits improvised. It’s sumptuous, three-dimensional and in Oliver Fewnick’s lighting, with a transparent curtain for foreground use and spectral effects, we simmer in crepuscular twilight or blasts of noon. The backdrop shifts; there’s sparkling lighting.

So we might know the characters fetching up to the hotel run by wannabe entrepreneur Sonny Kapoor, Nishad More’s exuberant haplessness playing off his mother: serpentine, plotting, possessive Mrs Kapoor (Rekha John-Cheriyan) still grieving (we see funerals bookending this play, a fine touch) though still with charms enough, and a slim latter dimension. Their conflict is the backbone of this adaptation: Moggach shifts a little narrative weight towards them.

Sonny’s love-interest, Shila Iqbal’s Saharu, works at a local call-centre with friend Kamila (more carefree Kerena Jagpal, forming a fine dancing duo too) and Anant Varman’s Mohan, who learns to stand for his rights. So Saharu’s not just under Aakel’s Mr Gupta who supervises workers to the inch. Saharu’s mostly infuriated with Sonny but doggedly returns – Iqbal’s not given quite enough chance to show why. Saharu’s disdained by Mrs Kapoor too. Which is where Mills’ Evelyn comes in.

More’s Sonny is excellent at riffing off each reassuring them all will be well ‘in a jiffy’ but it’s not, even in a jiffy-bag, as stage-left clouds of burnt food waft in, or the plumbing fails again. Mills’ Evelyn, widowed and left penurious is set to adventure, ends up improbably working at the call centre, finessing her new friends’ sales pitch to Brits whilst playing cupid. Mills like most here is wonderfully clear, scything through the ambience to pinpoint a truth.

Evelyn carries a torch for unhappily married Douglas – Paul Nicholas’ understated old socialist whose wife Jean – Sally Knyvette, once famed for Blake’s 7 but for long more visible in theatre – is confident with a hint of steel under the enlightened liberalism. Knyvette and Nicholas forge a fine, mute disdain, with Mills hesitating warmth outside the frosty envelope.

There are changes. For instance Tom Wilkinson’s film character Graham, sympathetic High Court judge with a secret and roots in India, is merged with Carey’s Dorothy, ex-BBC. In the book, Graham doesn’t die, and here doesn’t exist at all. Carey though makes a striking study of a woman (also gay) whose links with India centre on her childhood friend Jimmy – one of Harmage Singh Kalirai’s parts which bring some gravitas: he’s also the holy Sadhu performing rites poignantly at the start and end, and a Waiter. Carey cuts vocal diagonals through the action, always striding off somewhere singing nursery rhymes till people fear dementia. It’s one of the strongest, most poignant performances; dementia’s nowhere.

Another striking presence is Andy De La Tour’s accountant Norman, with his own damage, a raucous libido and unreconstructed views, grasping his Telegraph till Muriel can only photocopy the crossword when he’s asleep. De La Tour’s voice is so cut-through you’ d swear he was miced, but he’s not. He possesses the kind of energy needed elsewhere, hampered by filigree roles.

Rula Lenska’s Madge complements De La Tour. Couger-ish, Madge swoops and aims a sexual and business deal on dazzled Gupta, for the wider good as well as hers. Gupta too is given agency and Aakel can insinuate more humanity in the exchange. Again, Lenska’s energy in a relatively unsubtle part has its shades, a last sally against death.

Aakel too plays the ‘untouchable’ Jimmy befriended by Marlene Sidway’s Muriel. Oldest and most afflicted, her interaction and forging relationships outside any she’s experienced epitomises what this work and Moggach are trying for. With Sidway, you believe the foray, even if it’s not developed much.

There’s welcome moments you won’t find in book or film. Though despite worldwide success, initial film reviews underscore worries that never evaporate. Others slammed the book’s cultural assumptions, racism deployed to define character.

Moggach seems to address this. Taking Parker’s marked development of say Sonny in the film, she does further develop tensions between her Indian characters; as well as finesse ex-pat assumptions in ageing boomers, (originally pre-boomer). She updates the script: there’s zoom and other tweaks throughout. And weights resolution towards the young call-centre workers. There’s still a queasy touch to Brits working things out, Indian characters etched into stereotype. But it’s better-balanced now.

Moggach ensures some Kannada is spoken here. Kuljit Bhamra’s composition too is a real addition, particularly to the opening and close: evocative, at times exuberant.

Bailey corals her characters and sometimes the script – and non-verbal moments – telegraph key plot-points. It’s not easy to strike depth between 14 actors and even more characters; the script, packed with memorable one-liners, needs a further dimension to make us care. As theatrical telling of a novel though, with this stellar cast and set, it’s as good as we’ll get; and several notches up on others arriving here: like A Room With a View, Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Most of all it’s exotic, if second-best. Now there’s a thought.