Friday, 04 September 2015

Mrs Henderson Presents

This jolly, faintly smutty musical version of the film about London’s Windmill Theatre is full of star turns

Written by Robert Gore-Langton
Robert-Gore-Langton-176If you enjoyed the 2005 film Mrs Henderson Presents, with Judi Dench in the title role and co-starring Bob Hoskins, then this rather quaintly smutty musical version won’t disappoint. It’s based on the true story of flagging wartime theatre the Windmill, which lured in punters – mostly American and British servicemen – by spicing up its revues with naked girls. Nudity was allowed by the censor as long as they remained as static as the nudes in the National Gallery. A full view of ‘the Midlands’ was permitted, but that too came with certain conditions we won’t go into.

Tracie Bennett plays Mrs Henderson, posh and very forthright in her fox furs. She soon realised ‘the British love a bit of filth’. She ran the show with her grouchy manager Vivian Van Damm – in this he’s likeably played by Ian Bartholomew – doing her bidding but a tricky customer in his own right.

The music is by the excellent BB C composer George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain with lyrics by the great Don Black, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s occasional collaborator. It’s a charming, funny show of light erotica, though mostly set backstage, where the girls are led by Maureen (the charismatic Emma Williams). On getting the order to go nude, she leads a backstage rebellion, insisting the male stage crew strip in solidarity at rehearsals. It’s a great scene and the moment that Mrs H gets visual proof that her manager really is Jewish.

Interludes are provided by a cheeky-chappie comedian (Mark Hadfield) telling smutty jokes in huge neckties, and there’s a romantic subplot in which Maureen’s reluctant fling with a stagehand (Matthew Malthouse) who joins the RA F ends in tragedy and a deafening Les Mis-like aria about mountains not being easy to climb. I am not sure the brief move into musical tragedy in the second act really works – the show is best when it’s a ration-coupon comedy unashamed by its own vulgarity.

Terry Johnson directs it all with a palpable love, and the girls deserve a collective VC for their courage in baring all. It’s an evening of dropping bombs, tender hearts in cruel times, and plenty of patriotic British nipples. Thoroughly recommended, and a treat whether or not you saw the film. Also, it’s the ideal outing for an adolescent male godchild – they’ll pretend to be indifferent, but secretly thank you forever for giving them a live eyeful of their dreams. A West End transfer may well be on the cards. 

Until 5 September at the Theatre Royal Bath, then on tour: 01225- 448844, www.theatreroyal.org.uk



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