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Uplifting tale offers escape to the sunshine

If the icy rain and snow of South Wales is getting you down this week, the New Theatre offers the chance to escape to the sunshine and heat of Bengaluru, India.

That’s the setting for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a play by Deborah Moggach, based on her bestselling novel (These Foolish Things), which inspired the much-loved film starring Judi Dench and Bill Nighy.

We were at last night’s (Tuesday 8 March) press night to follow a mismatched group of ageing Brits settling into a less-than-luxurious retirement hotel in the bustling city, also known as Bangalore.

Some of them see it as a place to spend their final years in a climate that’s kinder to their arthritis. For others, it’s a chance to seek their next (final?) partner. And for the lucky few, it turns out to be where they find love when they least expected it.

The cast is led by reliable veterans Belinda Lang (2Point4 Children), Paul Nicholas (Just Good Friends, EastEnders), Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses) and Graham Seed (The Archers), who don’t disappoint.

Nishad More gives a stand-out performance in the support cast, showing a great sense of comic timing and physicality as the well-meaning hotel manager, coping with an overbearing mother (another strong performance by Rekha John Cheriyan), his strange new collection of elderly guests, and a building with dodgy plumbing, unreliable electricity, and fungus on the walls.

He injects some much-needed energy into proceedings, as do the other young performers – Shila Iqbal, as his long-suffering girlfriend, and Kerena Jagpal and Anant Varman as her colleagues in the local call centre.

When they’re not around, the play does drag a little, especially in the first half, despite the best efforts of the generally excellent cast, which also includes Tiran Aakel, Eileen Battye, Paola Dionisotti, Kriss Dosanj, and Marlene Sidaway.

It’s lovely to look at – the set design by Colin Richmond is outstanding, brilliantly capturing the rundown hotel, which forms the backdrop to much of the play. And his costume design, too, adds much to create the vibrant atmosphere.

There are a few big laughs along the way, but don’t expect to be rolling in the aisles – the comedy is mainly of the ‘gentle’ variety. It’s the personal stories of lost loves, missed opportunities, and second chances that are important here, making this a moving and ultimately uplifting show.

For more about the background, there’s an interview with the author Deborah Moggach on our companion arts and entertainment blog Piece of Pink Pie.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel plays at the New Theatre until Saturday (11 March). You can buy tickets from the box office on 0343 310 0041 or online here.

Review by Andy Weltch

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