Theatre review: Mrs Henderson Presents…

Date Posted: 22/02/2016

Louise Joy visits the Noel Coward Theatre to discover if Mrs Henderson Presents is worth the buck for groups.

The story of Mrs Henderson and her windmill girls isn’t an entirely new one. In fact, the show is based on a film which is based on a true story – that of the Windmill Theatre in London.

In 1930, a widow named Laura Henderson purchased The Windmill Theatre and hired a new theatre manager, Vivian Van Damm, to develop the idea of Revudeville – a continuous variety show of singers, dancers and showgirls.

Following an unsuccessful run, the duo decided to go in a new direction and thus The Windmill Girls were created – glamorous young women posing as nude statues.

The Lord Chamberlain of the time wasn’t so sure though –  a show similar to the Moulin Rouge in Paris was unprecedented in the United Kingdom back then. However, Mrs Henderson argued that the nude girls remaining immobile meant they were considered as art – no different then what was and still is seen in an average art gallery.

Mrs Henderson Presents stays true to the events surrounding The Windmill Theatre and tells the story of its stance against the war – it was the only theatre to remain open throughout World War Two. This was the reason for the theatre’s famous motto “We Never Closed”.

The show begins as it means to go on – the bustling and humorous Arthur (Jamie Foreman) rushes onto the stage to crack a couple of jokes and get the audience in high spirits as he introduces the first scene.

Almost as soon as the curtain reveals the first scene, I was immediately faced with a flurry of movement. Straight away, it’s obvious that although the main messages behind this show are to do with the theatre’s stance during the war and Mrs Henderson herself, there are many smaller storylines to be observed throughout.

Even with Mrs Henderson’s curious and witty arrival, eagle eyes will be able to notice the very beginnings of the relationship growing between Maureen and Eddie, with a look from her here and the teasing of his friends there.

It’s the constant upbeat activity that draws in the audience, from the subtle background movement to the changes within the over the top and glamorous set.

One excellent example is the giant rotating golden canvas frame during dance number Rubens and Renoir, as the girls dance alongside and even through the frame in some cases.

Tracie Bennett as 'Mrs Laura Henderson'. Photo by Paul Coltas

Mrs Henderson herself is an eccentric and immediately likeable character, filled with heart, wit and a not-so-hidden saucy side. You’ll see what I mean during the scene in which the Lord Chamberlain stutters and stumbles over many anecdotes describing what will be seen on stage. Without missing a beat, Mrs Henderson boldly proclaims the taboo word he’d been struggling to say – causing the audience to gasp and immediately giggle.

There are many witty moments in this show, delivered in perfect timing and causing me to leave at the end with aching cheeks. Mrs Henderson presents things in a way that you can’t help but admire her for – Whatever Time I Have was inspiring and upbeat, despite the perhaps sombre message behind it and

I feel I wasn’t the only one in the audience to agree wholeheartedly with the lyrics about making the most of the time you do have.

I feel I should also mention the relationship between Mrs Henderson and Vivian Van Damm – often arguing about what’s best for the show but in an effortlessly funny manner. The character dynamics between the two was a favourite with the audience.

The overly ordinary (at first, anyway) Maureen was another to steal the show. She is introduced as a clumsy and slightly shy tea girl who later goes on to take a starring role within the show. Each scene sees her grow as a person and gain more confidence – and more voice, too. Her rendition of If Mountains Were Easy to Climb is emotional and tugged on everyone’s heart strings – I had goosebumps.

There’s a lot to take away from Mrs Henderson Presents. Each message is portrayed throughout upbeat numbers that had my foot tapping as I gazed in awe at the dramatic dancing and ever so beautiful outfits. The basis of the story is, of course, resistance against the war and the way Mrs Henderson and her girls kept their bold spirit alive, even in the midst of the London bombings.

It’s a comedic love story-come-show stopper of a story which has a little bit of everything. But we’re also taught that sometimes a bold move can make you feel invigorated and like a whole new person.

And one of my favourite parts of Mrs Henderson Presents was at the very end when we see the show still going on – at last with the ‘dancing fountain’ (an on stage water feature that moves in time with the music) Mrs Henderson had been rooting for since her first scene on stage.

Mrs Henderson Presents is booking at the Noel Coward Theatre in London until 18th June.

For more information visit www.mrshenderson.co.uk.

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