Noel Coward Theatre, London
Music by George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain
Lyrics by Don Black
Direction and book by Terry Johnson
Fresh out of the ‘Bath’ as it were and straight into London’s West End comes the eagerly anticipated transfer of last year’s adaptation of the film Mrs Henderson Presents. Perhaps most commonly known to most as the ‘striptease revue film’ starring Judi Dench, Will Young & the late great Bob Hoskins. Mrs Laura Henderson and her girls bring us straight to the heart of an austerity Britain, with the women and the workers of World War 2, providing a much more gut-wrenching hit than one might have imagined.
The show is a glorious step back into the good old days of great British revue and sits comfortably when jumping between both the on and offstage lives of its characters. Delivering equal measures of comedy and song there is also Terry Johnson’s fabulously risqué book-full of one liners to make more than your hairs stand on end. Credit here also to Johnson’s direction, which alongside Don Blacks lyrics provides captures much of Britain’s earlier theatrical heritage. The book offers all the ingredients of a hit, with just the right amount of pathos and pain on display. George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score serves the piece accordingly, adding a variety of flavours that all evoke both the era and the show itself. The only missing ingredient for this ‘revue’ would have been the delicious addition of an Overture and/or Entr’acte to the proceedings, that could perhaps have paid homage to some of the great British musical classics.
Helming her ‘Revuedeville’ Girls - the fabulous Tracie Bennett steals the show and the laughs with some outstanding lines and a wonderfully driven and deliciously dirty Mrs Henderson. Bennett gives an effervescent portrayal of wit, charm and sincerity that may well go on to pay dividends for her come awards season. And whilst it is left to Bennett to steal the laughs, Emma Williams has no problem in stealing our hearts with a beautifully epic portrayal of the wonderful Maureen. Williams again delivers comedy and heartache in abundance, providing another award worthy performance to add to her catalogue of recent successes. A special nod must also be given to Lizzy Connolly, Katie Bernstein and Lauren Hood, leading their fellow ensemble of girls through a whirlwind performance of both excitingly comical and poignantly beautiful work when it comes to Mrs Henderson’s show itself. Throughout, the ensemble provide a sparkling array of classic musical theatre magic, with production numbers such as the wonderful Mrs Henderson Presents led by Samuel Holmes and What a Waste of a Moon, with its beautiful choreography from Andrew Wright.
With a wonderful supporting design by Tim Shortall, and some inspired musical direction of this fine new score from Barney Ashworth, Mrs Henderson Presents gives us more than a glimpse into the bleak and backstage struggle of Britain in the midst of crisis - and perhaps this is where both show and story triumph. It is what is going on behind the curtain that makes Mrs Henderson Presents quite such an epic statement on the country’s chaos. And, indeed, ultimately makes Laura Henderson herself quite the empowered and driven ambassador at the helm of her show, and our story. Mrs Henderson Presents certainly doesn’t fail to capture our attention - but quite unexpectedly it manages to capture our hearts as well.
Now booking until 18th June
Guest reviewer: Jack Clements
Photo credit: Paul Coltas