In 2005 I saw a lovely little film with my family. Starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, Mrs Henderson Presents told the story of London’s Windmill Theatre, which became famous for its nude tableau shows and which continued to provide entertainment to the troops and Londoners during World War II. It wonderfully mixed the fun and humour of Mrs Henderson’s enterprise with the seemingly needless tragedies of war.
For those unfamiliar with the film, the main character around whom the story is framed is Mrs Laura Henderson, who after being widowed has been looking for a new adventure in her later life and decides to purchase a theatre, the Windmill Theatre (just off Piccadilly Circus on Great Windmill Street) with her money. The plan is to create a Vaudeville-style revue show of various acts. However after a disastrous start, Mrs Henderson has an idea – the girls should be naked on stage, but in order to get around the strict censors they must be as statues in a museum (as tableau vivants or “living pictures”)! Needless to say the fortunes of the Windmill greatly improve. However as War arrives, the family that has formed at the Windmill must learn how to carry on in such difficult times, while facing tragedies of their own.
Tracie Bennett, who was so superb in End of The Rainbow, is great as the playful Mrs Henderson. She is the focal point of the characters and is a mother-like figure to those working in her theatre. She also has a superb voice, which means she can deliver the songs with ease. I also enjoyed her chemistry with Ian Bartholomew as Vivian Van Damm, who helps her manage the theatre and their number acknowledging how they aren’t spring chickens anymore was fun.
Although the songs are enjoyable and entertaining, only one really stayed in my head afterwards and that’s If Mountains Were Easy to Climb, in which Emma Williams as Maureen wonderfully reflects on how life is not easy, but that we must keep going. It was certainly a highlight for me and stood out amongst the rest of the songs, which sometimes feel a bit average.
The cast do a great job, especially the girls who bravely bare all every night and Emma Williams is very strong throughout as her character gives us an insight in to the realities war brought to those at home. The show does a great job of balancing the humour and silliness with the more serious aspects of life during that time.
I’d been curious to see how the story would translate on to the musical theatre stage and after my trip to see the show last week, although I still prefer the film, Mrs Henderson Presents the musical is still an enjoyable and entertaining outing to the Noel Coward Theatre.
Mrs Henderson is booking at the Noel Coward Theatre until 18th June 2016. For more information and ticket availability visit the website here