MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS
Book by Terry Johnson, lyrics by Don Black, music by George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain.
Noel Coward Theatre booking to 18 June
St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4AU to 18 June 2016.
Mon & Wed-Sat 7.30pm. No performances Tues. Mat Thur & Sat 2.30 pm.
Runs 2hr 40mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7759 8010.
Review: William Russell 17 February.
An experience which will leave you gobsmacked
Every now and then a show so awful that it is hugely enjoyable turns up on the West End stage and this truly dreadful musical is such a show. It is one to rank with possibly Lionel Bart’s Twang. But it has been slickly directed by Terry Johnson, has a first rate cast, all of whom deserve better, and the second night audience was enraptured by it. So who knows, it could be a hit.
Mr Johnson, responsible for the book, has taken a small, not very good 2005 film which starred Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins about the Windmill theatre, the one that never closed during the Second World War. It staged shows with nudes who never moved supported by comedians, many of whom, went on to better things.
The idea for the nudes came from Mrs Henderson, a wealthy widow, who had bought the theatre on a whim and employed Vivian Van Damm to run it as a variety house. It was a disaster, but after she thought of the naked ladies it became the talk of the town and during the war allegedly boosted the spirits, among other things, of the lads home from the Front.
The trouble is that we get the nudes at the end of Act One, which leaves nothing much to happen in Act Two other than some fire watching and Mrs Henderson and Van Damm squabbling, and the tableaux of naked ladies prove to be the least erotic, most boring sight imaginable.
Tracie Bennett is splendid as the impossible, obstinate Mrs Henderson, Ian Bartholomew does what he can with the sketchy role of Van Damm and Emma Williams sings sweetly as a reluctant recruit to the show who eventually performs a very chaste fan dance.
The chorus works hard, the band in the pit make the best of a score which seems to consist of tunes one has heard before, and the old jokes – there is a Max Miller clone as compere played by Jamie Foreman who cracks the worst of them – mostly amuse. As a risqué night out for coach parties it could turn out to be the hit of the season. The British do like things to be naughty but nice, and this show certainly is, but that anyone in 2016 could dream of putting it on takes the breath away.
Mrs Henderson: Tracie Bennett.
Vivian Van Damm: Ian Bartholomew.
Maureen: Emma Williams.
Arthur: Jamie Foreman.
Lord Cromer: Robert Hands.
Eddie: Matthew Malthouse.
Bertie: Samuel Holmes.
Peggy: Katie Bernstein.
Doris: Lizzy Connolly.
Vera: Lauren Wood.
Lady Conway: Liz Ewing.
Windmill Girls: Sarah Bakker, Rhiannon Chesterman, Victoria Hay.
Nigel/Secretary: Oliver Jackson.
Frank: Alexander Delamere.
Ensemble: Andrew Bryant, Katrina Kleve, Tania Newton, Sam O’Rourke, Neil Stewart, Dickie Wood.
Covers: Emily Goodenough, Ian Gareth Jones, Lauren Logan, Graham Vick.
Director: Terry Jones.
Conductor to 26 March: Mike Dixon.
Musical Director: Barney Ashworth.
Choreographer: Andrew Wright.
Set Design: Tim Shortall.
Costume Design: Paul Wills.
Lighting Design: Ben Ormerod.
Sound Design: Gareth Owen.
Orchestrations: Larry Blank.