Some months ago a good friend of mine asked if I had seen the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I replied in the negative and he said that he highly recommended it so, as we seem to share the same taste in quite a few things, especially red wine, I caught it the next time it was on TV. Although not something I would have normally have watched I was quite impressed, so, when I saw that the stage version was coming to Leeds Playhouse I asked him if he would like to see it. Sadly his diary was full throughout the run – it must be great having a life – so I went on my own.
The piece is about relationships and so there are several strands to it, all of which revolve around a dilapidated hotel in India which is facing bankruptcy after the family patriarch dies until his son comes up with the idea to open a ‘residential hotel’ to cater for clients of advancing years. Each has their own reasons for being there and, although not initially enamoured by the place, over time they become attached to it, and each other, so when there are moves afoot to sell it for redevelopment to the local call centre entrepreneur, they conspire to save it.
The whole process of the above makes each of them appreciate their lives and that, although elderly, there are still opportunities to access untapped potential, something to which I can relate having only started my writing ‘career’ at the age of 66.
I have found that there are there basic categories of old people; those who morph into a version of their own grandparents, those who deny the inevitable process of aging and use whatever means they can to try to stop it, and the third group who accept the inevitable and carry on ploughing their own furrow. All of the above were represented in the hotel residents.
Sadly, I am rather hampered in my reviewing this play as the production company had not supplied Leeds Playhouse with programmes so, with a few exceptions, I have no idea who they were. I was provided with some stock production images which supplied names but their biographies and the list of the creatives are blank. I did notice that Paul Nicholas was billed to appear but his character was taken by someone else. It is a shame really as I used to like him in Just Good Friends and, ironically, one of his pop hits from the 70s was Grandma’s Party.
As the evening wore on, I became more pleased that I had seen the film as the stage show is so different. The transition from one medium to another is not always seamless for a variety of reasons as this proved. Except for a couple of scenes, all nuance was lost and, in the first half, the characters became caricatures. This was especially true of; the oldest resident, a retired cleaner who tottered across the stage and wouldn’t try Indian food or leave the hotel; the serial divorcée, played by the still ravishing Rula Lenska; the spinster who had cared for her mother long-term, Hayley Mills, who still looks much younger than her birth certificate states, and a chap who was there because his friend had told him that Indian women prefer the ‘older’ man, so he was always on the pull. As the stories progressed the characters became more rounded but the seeds of farce based on stereotypes had been planted and taken root.
This was also true of the Indian characters who were played as though they were in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, although at least here they were Indian rather than white actors in dark make-up. There was the possessive mother who wanted her son to take part in an arranged marriage, but he was in love with a girl from the call centre where all the young employees were named after western products with which they were familiar, e.g. Johnson, from the baby powder, Britney after Ms Spears, and another I don’t recall and can’t look up. This was to make the callers from the UK feel more comfortable.
Regardless of what I thought, the audience, whose demographic was pretty broad, covering all ages from 65 to 100, seemed to love it and laughed an awful lot. Sometimes they even laughed at the funny stuff. As an aside, I was sitting at the back of the auditorium, thanks to the wonderful staff at Leeds Playhouse who moved me from the stalls when I told them of my knee operation and that I was in agony, to a seat with much more legroom. That is not the aside, this is, I have never seen so many people consult their mobile phones during a performance, perhaps there is an app which reminds you of when to take your medication or alerts you if you have strayed too far from the care home. Look, if Deborah Moggach, the writer, and Lucy Bailey, the director, can take the rise out of old people, I am sure I can, being one of their number.
I was quite surprised when I saw the entry for this play in the Leeds Playhouse programme, it is something I would have thought was more suitable for a mainstream theatre, but what do I know. The layout of the Quarry Theatre did, however, seem to lend itself to the production as the ‘stage’ is at ground level and the seating banked so that everyone is looking down on it, which means that there is a lot of space, thus enabling the action to be spread out rather than the actors being cramped. The set also benefitted from this with a garden at the rear of the main structure of the hotel lobby and lounge. The workstations of the call centre were wheeled on and off by the actors as required, as were the cocktail lounge bar and stools.
If you are of a certain age and fancy a night of nostalgia, this is definitely for you, otherwise view it as a pretty fair representation of how things used to be. It is worth the ticket price to hear Rula Lenska drop the F Bomb from out of nowhere, stunning those present before they burst into fits of laughter. Like my friend I would still recommend the film as I lends itself far better to the bitter sweet storylines.
Oh well, I think that my carer is about to deliver my meals on wheels, so I had better change my cardigan. They always come when I am watching afternoon tv with all of those lovely adverts for mobility scooters and power recliner chairs, not to mention the bath with a gizmo to help you in and out. Paradise.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 18th February. For more details and to book tickets please go to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/the-best-exotic-marigold-hotel/
Feature image from Leeds Playhouse. Photographs by Johan Persson