I gave Mrs Henderson Presents a very enthusiastic response at the curtain call of last night’s West End premiere – so enthusiastic that, as I tweeted at the time, I dented my ring. This is not good, it was my favourite ring, but I couldn’t help myself and I don’t begrudge the show. (A helpful Twitter follower advised me to remove jewellery in future: noted.)
Reading a few of this morning’s verdicts, I have that curious feeling of wondering if we all saw the same show. If I think hard about it, sure, I can understand some of the criticisms – the narrative may be a little thin, the politics of the period may be underplayed, the patriotism may border on cheesy, and yes, no getting around it, the women do display their breasts – but I don’t care. I absolutely loved this show. And, far from offensive, as a woman (and general sentient being), I found the nudity was in no means distasteful or gratuitous – it was celebratory, respectful and, ahem, uplifting.
But the clothes don’t come off (sparingly) for quite some time. Long before that, indeed, from the moment that Jamie Foreman‘s emcee takes to the stage to invite the audience to “sit back in your seats, you’re all in for a treat”, I was spellbound in an evening that is amusing, touching and pride-inducing at turns, unashamedly nostalgic for “that decent, decade England that bred” us and toe-tappingly tuneful throughout.
“Never has so much been shown by so few to so many”
My personal highlights – and my friends and I discussed many more at length while still feeling buoyant over post-show dinner – were:
the “Lord Chamberlain’s Song”, a sort of Modern Major General with hilarious choreography by Andrew Wright, during which a feisty Tracie Bennett (playing beautifully against type as the aristocratic Mrs Henderson) persuades the lord (a stiff-upper-lip Robert Hands) that nude, stationary women should not be censored (okay but, he says, “I’ll close you down at once if any titties move”); the deliciously cheeky (pun intended) scene where Emma Williams‘ tea-girl turned titillator Maureen demands the male stagehands undress before the shyer Windmill Girls will do the same ; Ian Bartholomew‘s “Living in a Dream World”, in which he worries for his fellow Jews in Europe; the bare-chested defiance of the women as the bombs fall on Soho during the Blitz (just typing that chokes me up); and the proud anthem fashioned from the real Windmill Theatre’s motto “We’ll Never Close”.
Whatever happens with Mrs Henderson Presents, I hope that “We’ll Never Close” becomes a showbiz, showtune standard of the likes of “No Business Like Show Business” and “Another Opening, Another Show”.
So I say, go see Mrs Henderson Presents, help make it a great big hit. And, let me give a few more credits: book and direction by Terry Johnson, music by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain, lyrics by Don Black, musical direction by Mike Dixon (striking up a lively repartee, while conducting, from the pit), and sparky performances from supporting cast including Samuel Holmes as “bowling from the pavillion end” Bertie, Matthew Malthouse as handyman turned fighter pilot Eddie and Lizzy Connolly as no-fuss Northern lass Windmill Girl Doris (“well, this makes a change from the co-op in Darlington”).
As an opening night bonus, the cast were joined onstage at the curtain call by many of the original Windmill Girls, most of whom are now in their 80s (and one a sprightly 97).
I’ve gathered reviews, interviews and news (including the show’s just announced Canadian premiere) below. Scroll down for show tweets from me and my first-night companions, including composer, lyricist and book writer Robbie Sherman, who previously worked with Emma Williams on A Spoonful of Sherman and, through his father, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Mrs Henderson Presents is currently booking at the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre until 18 June 2016.