MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS – West End

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Edward SeckersonLeave a Comment

Noel Coward Theatre, London – until 18 June 2016

The old gags are the best, they say – or just the oldest – and in this hugely enjoyable adaptation of the movie Mrs Henderson Presents they come thick and fast from the mouth of the show’s very own Emcee Arthur (Jamie Foreman) who steers us through good times and bad, through blitz and all-clears, for the little review theatre whose slogan “We Never Close” was something not even Hitler’s bombs could challenge. Our own Lord Chamberlain had more chance but even he failed to exact a direct hit on the tits and ass. And to think The Windmill was/is just from where we were sitting just across Leicester Square.

The driving force behind this lovable and oh, so English confection is that rare thing in musicals – a smart and entertaining book – Terry Johnson (who also directs with the surest of hands) – and lyrics from Don Black that are as good as anything he has yet given us and come wickedly into their own quite early in the show with a cracking number for the afementioned Lord Chamberlain (Robert Hands) that hits the spot like latterday G & S. When a lyricist’s contribution is indestinguishable from his book writer’s the chances are the show will gel. And it does. George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score has the virtue of coming unobtrusively into its own and delivering when the mood darkens and the emotional stakes are higher. You think at first it’s run of the mill but the melodic and harmonic twists and turns creep up on you.

A smashing ensemble drives the whole enterprise jauntily along so that those darker moments really tell. When Tracie Bennett’s indomitable Mrs Henderson reveals that the love of her live was not her deceased husband but a soldier and like an apparition young Eddie (Matthew Malthouse) appears in uniform, freshly conscripted, it’s heart in the mouth time. And, of course, it’s only a matter of time befor our Emcee dons the Nazi ensignia and demands that we laugh at his jokes. Ok, so where would the device be without Cabaret – but, hey, everything comes from somewhere.

One needs to mention Emma Williams’ Maureen whose character grows with the show and who sings so beautifully and truthfully. That’s the thing about the show – it’s truthful and honest and doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t. Ian Bartholomew’s seasoned Vivian Van Damm – Mrs Henderson’s partner in crime – is a case in point. His experience and honesty makes it all seem to effortless. Then there’s Samuel Holmes’ Bertie who “bowls from the pavillion end” with such aplomb. I’m going to steal that Johnson euphemism and use it often.

Edward Seckerson on RssEdward Seckerson on Twitter
Edward Seckerson
A prolific broadcaster, writer and journalist as well as a self-confessed ‘musical theatre obsessive’, Edward has interviewed everyone from Bernstein to Liza Minnelli, Paul McCartney to Pavarotti, Julie Andrews to Andrew Lloyd Webber. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen. He also regularly produces podcast interviews with notable theatrical artists and makes regular appearances on the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, where he presented the 2007 series of the music quiz Counterpoint. He has published books on Gustav Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, is a regular critic for Gramophone Magazine and Opern Welt and a founder member of The Arts Desk. He also blogs independently at www.edwardseckerson.biz and tweets at @seckerson.
Read more...

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Edward Seckerson on RssEdward Seckerson on Twitter
Edward Seckerson
A prolific broadcaster, writer and journalist as well as a self-confessed ‘musical theatre obsessive’, Edward has interviewed everyone from Bernstein to Liza Minnelli, Paul McCartney to Pavarotti, Julie Andrews to Andrew Lloyd Webber. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen. He also regularly produces podcast interviews with notable theatrical artists and makes regular appearances on the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, where he presented the 2007 series of the music quiz Counterpoint. He has published books on Gustav Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, is a regular critic for Gramophone Magazine and Opern Welt and a founder member of The Arts Desk. He also blogs independently at www.edwardseckerson.biz and tweets at @seckerson.

Leave a Comment