Mrs Henderson Presents is a solid old-fashion and classically British musical – in a good way.
Based on the 2005 film of the same name, starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, the story begins just before the Second World War in 1937 and takes us through to the height of the Blitz in 1940. This is a plucky story of The Windmill Theatre in Soho and its showbiz survival against all odds during difficult times.
The sassy witty script tells a tale of the gutsy 70-year-old widow Mrs Henderson, played brilliantly by Tracie Bennett, who was left a fortune and chooses to buy the struggling theatre.
She has a light bulb moment of an idea to introduce fully nude women as the main attraction. Along with Dutch manager Vivian Van Damm they transform the venue’s fortune.
Not surprisingly they have to battle with the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain played out in a very entertaining Gilbert and Sullivan-esque scene. She promises that the young women posing naked in classical Greek artistic tableaux will not wobble and no cheek will quiver.
Not surprisingly, the ladies take some convincing; some run away, refusing to be unclothed in public. But shy Maureen, played charmingly by Emma Williams, thinks it is a good idea and agrees to do it and other girls follow her lead.
When the scene eventually plays out, the women are quite still, quite extraordinarily beautiful, and quite nude. Utterly exposed – like goddesses from a Renaissance painting.
The first half is fun and has wonderful lyrics that resonate with many of the more senior of us. “Whatever time I have I don’t intend to waste. There is no law that says you have to act your age. I don’t care how old I am, inside I’m 23.”
The second half has more serious patriotic message as the bombs shake the stage. Keeping the ‘boys” entertained at the height of the blitz is the priority. The theatre became famous for its refusal to close despite the bombings, and its catchphrase “We never close” went down in history.
It is about courage, faith and pride also the older person giving strength to the youth. Whilst there are moments of comedy and moments of pathos, as you get involved in the characters stories.
This is also an entertaining lighthearted musical, which leaves you feeling both patriotic and cheerful.