A musical full of heart and charm, Mrs Henderson Presents is so fantastically – and sometimes defiantly – British that you can’t help but to feel a sense of patriotism as plucky Henderson, played by the brilliant Tracie Bennett, sings the spirit-raising slogan, ‘We’ll never close!’
Inspired by the 2005 film of the same name, starring Dame Judie Dench and the late Bob Hoskins, Mrs Henderson Presents translates perfectly from screen to stage, written and directed by Terry Johnson.
Set in the late 1930s, widowed Laura Henderson takes on the Windmill Theatre in Soho transforming it from cinema to non-stop revue with the help of Dutch-Jewish manager Vivian Van Damm, played by Ian Bartholomew. Bennett and Bartholomew are a dynamic duo, offering the perfect concoction of charisma and wit from start to finish. The lightbulb moment – literally – comes when Mrs Henderson decides ‘for the show to go on, the clothes must come off’ and plenty of fun is had winning over theatrical censor Lord Cromer, when witty lyrics from the great Don Black really come into their own.
As war weighs in, the nude review successfully lifts spirits and the Windmill Girls fill the theatre, bringing back a sense of old-school pizazz to the stunning Noel Coward Theatre while they’re at. The well staged full-frontal scenes create quite the buzz throughout the show, inciting a sense of empowerment for women in the audience and for these ‘ordinary girls’ who bravely bare all. Though slightly soft-centred at times the story has plenty of grit, and star of the show Maureen, played by the enchanting Emma Williams, brings a tear to the eye with her heartfelt rendition of If Mountains Were Easy to Climb, performed with a touching sincerity the whole show encapsulates.
The strong score is highly enjoyable, with plenty of big showy numbers and heart-rending ballads, highlighted by Vivian Van Damm’s Living in a Dream World that raises the hairs on the back of the neck. Overall the show is good fun, stirring a patriotic sentimentality that inspires, with a sweet innocence that perfectly captures the era.
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Images: Paul Coltas