The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Live on Stage

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

23/04/2024 - 05/05/2024

St James Theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington

07/05/2024 - 12/05/2024

James Hay Theatre, Christchurch

15/05/2024 - 19/05/2024

Production Details

Adapted from her a novel and film of same name by Deborah Moggach
Director: Lucy Waterhouse

Stewart & Tricia Macpherson and Ben McDonald Presents

Based on the Sunday Times bestseller which inspired one of this century’s most treasured films, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes us on a journey to India with an eclectic group of British retirees as they embark on a new life.

The luxury residence is far from the opulence they were promised, but as their lives begin to intertwine, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a joyous comedy play about taking risks, finding love and embracing second chances, even in the most surprising of places.

The Civic, Auckland | 23 April – 5 May
St James Theatre, Wellington | 7 – 12 May
James Hay Theatre, Christchurch | 15 – 19 May
Tickets from $65 (plus booking fees)
Ticketmaster: Auckland and Wellington
Ticketek: Christchurch

MADGE – Rula Lenska
NORMAN – Paul Barrett
DOROTHY – Cathy Downes
TIKAL/MOHEN – Ravi Gurunathan
JIMMY – Harmage Singh Kalirai
SONNY – Shaan Kesha
MR GUPTA – Alvin Maharaj
KAMILA – Tiahli Martyn
EVELYN – Georgina Monro
JEAN – Helen Moulder
DOUGLAS – Edward Newborn
SAHANI – Dhiya Redding
MURIEL – Annie Ruth
MRS KAPOOR – Sudeepta Vyas Yvas

UK Costume & Set Designer was Colin Richmond. Set re-constructed by Chris Reddington in Christchurch.
UK Lighting Designer was Oliver Fenwick. Re-design by Brock Coddington
Choreographer: Leigh Evans
UK Sound Design by Mic Pool, being adapted for NZ by Peter vanGent

Theatre ,

2 hours 30 mins including interval

Ensemble work makes this Exotic production sing

Review by Ali Jones 16th May 2024

First there was the 2012 film adaptation from the novel, and now there’s a play. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has opened at the James Hay Theatre in Christchurch and judging by the audience, it should enjoy a good run.

The full house applauds as the lights reveal a stunning set; a dilapidated two-storey colonial style building complete with a real fountain out the front.

Many of us saw the film of the same name, and I could not help but look at the characters on stage and try to recall if that was the ‘Maggie Smith’ one, or did ‘Billy Nighy’ play that part in the movie? By the second half, that’s no longer a distraction as the fantastic cast makes these characters their own.

Shaan Kesha is terrific as Sonny Kapoor, the energetic manager of the Marigold Hotel, which has taken in as guests a handful of British retirees, to live out their days in India. Kesha is ‘on’ the whole time and never misses a beat.

But it is the ensemble work, and particularly in the second half, that makes this production sing.

The first half of the show feels a little slow and uneven pace-wise. A few small technical issues with sound and lighting doesn’t help. But as the characters start to establish themselves and where they fit in the bigger picture, the pace and flow improves.

There’s a wide range of experience in this production; from the well-known British stage and television performer, Rula Lenska (Claudia Colby in Coronation Street) who plays the husband-seeking Madge, and Paul Barrett (The Court Theatre and Shortland Street), who’s a pleasure to watch as the sifty, aging lothario Norman, to young Dhiya Redding (Sahani – Sonny’s girlfriend) and the aforementioned, Shaan Keesha. Everyone works well together, regardless of age or experience.

Although the film and play can’t and shouldn’t be compared, it’s important to acknowledge that the film enabled the incredible energy, colour and sound of a busy Indian city to be amplified – it’s of course a medium that makes that possible. This production uses audio very effectively to communicate the sounds of the city – traffic and the calling of prayers – as well as the quieter sounds of the night – cicadas and other after-dark creatures. The lighting also clearly distinguishes inside and outside the hotel, and different times of the day. Together, the sound and lighting really make us feel a million miles away from a frosty Christchurch night and transports us to the other side of the world – steamy, sticky Indian days and nights.

There are some nice additions to this script. A reference to ‘Zoom’ when Evelyn (Georgina Monro) talks about trying to get a Wi-Fi connection to contact her daughter back home; and a possible nod to Dame Maggie Smith, who starred in the two Marigold films, when one of the characters says they watch Downtown Abbey to help them get to sleep.

It’s not laugh out loud funny, and nor is it supposed to be, but there are some genuine long chuckles in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Norman says to Madge, as he tries to chat her up, “I bet you were a real trouser stirrer in your day.” Smooth, Norman; very smooth.

As is the case for all the characters, Norman has advanced his own personal journey by the end of the play, and somewhere in these flawed human beings – young and old – I think we all see a bit of ourselves.

One last thing – the programme. It was a nice touch to have these provided as complimentary but I would have rather read about the background of the performers than a blurb they had written about what they were looking forward to, working on the show. It’s always going to be positive; they’re hardly going to say “Oh dear god, I am dreading it. My cast colleagues are old and infirm.”

I googled all of the performers afterwards as I wanted to know who they were, where they came from, what they’d done before and so on. There’s a lot of talent here and I think theatregoers don’t get a huge opportunity to learn much about our performers (no Arts TV programming, limited media coverage in general), and the production’s programme is the perfect place to blow their trumpets.


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A satirically amusing socio-political commentary

Review by John Smythe 08th May 2024

In a 2023 Q&A with Conchord Publications’ Breaking Character website, UK novelist Deborah Moggach reveals the origin of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

“I got the idea through asking myself the question: who’s going to look after us, and pay for us, when we get old? We live so long that we’re costing the country a huge amount of money – in the old days we’d be dead by 65, but now we’re living sometimes 30 years longer, with all that that entails. So I had the rather brilliant idea of sending us off to India. I thought, we outsource everything else, why not outsource the elderly? India would be the perfect place: incredibly cheap, so one’s pension would go a lot further and staff would be cheap too; warm climate, perfect for arthritic joints; a huge respect for the elderly, which is something we really don’t have in the UK, where we shove them into homes miles away from anywhere – in India they usually stay in the family; English largely spoken; a deep link between the two countries due to history; etc.”

From that creative seed a novel grew, called These Foolish Things (2004), which became the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), with a screenplay by Ol Parker. Then Moggach herself adapted it as the stage play (2022) which toured the UK before gracing London’s West end last year, directed by Lucy Bailey.

Now Stewart and Tricia Macpherson (Stetson Group) and Ben McDonald have revived that production for a three-city NZ tour, directed by UK-based Lucy Waterhouse with Rula Lenska (who played Coro’s Claudia Colby for over a decade) and Harmage Singh Kalirai reprising their roles alongside a rich selection of New Zealand actors. The St James Theatre stalls and dress circle are packed for its opening night in Wellington – fans have come from as far afield as Taranaki.

Originally designed by Colin Richmond and recreated in Christchurch by Chris Reddington, the set brilliantly evokes the faded grandeur of the eponymous hotel while allowing for seamless transition from inside to outside, appearances aloft and pop-up scenes elsewhere.

All the British characters are retired and have come en masse to the Marigold thanks to the entrepreneurial zeal of Sonny Kapoor (Shaan Kesha). Who they are and why they are here gradually emerges as they eke out their largely indolent days – apart from eager-beaver tourists Jean (Helen Moulder) and ex-History teacher Douglas (Edward Newborn) who dash off to see the many sights and sites Bangalore has to offer – much to the scorn of widowed Madge (Rula Lenska), who is only here to find herself a rich Maharaja.  

Dorothy (Cathy Downes), who used to work for the BBC, tends to disappear too, somewhat mysteriously, and her even stranger habit of wandering through the hotel and grounds as very English childhood songs and chants come to mind, to which we are privy, has the other guests doubting her sanity. Not so much enigmatic as mousily timid, Evelyn (Georgina Monro) seems to have no idea what to do with herself.

Ex-Accountant cum Actuary Norman (Paul Barrett) is a judgemental and somewhat malevolent presence. He and Cockney ex-Cleaner Muriel (Annie Ruth) betray semiconscious British racism from very different points on the class spectrum (where would British drama and comedy be without the class system?).

Mrs Kapoor (Sudeepta Vyas), whose late husband has left her to manage the crumbling edifice with its crippling debt, is charmingly hospitable at the front desk but an emotional manipulator of her son. Thirty-three year-old Sonny and Call Centre Team Leader Sahani (Dhiya Redding) are in love with each other but India’s class system is even more destructive of human potential. This is especially evident in Mrs K’s attitude to the Sweeper, Tikai (Ravi Gurunathan).

Gurunathan doubles as Call Centre worker Mohan along with Tiahli Martyn’s Kalmila. Their boss, Mr Gupta (Alvin Maharaj) – who is surreptitiously visiting Mrs K – exemplifies why labour laws and unions are essential in any civilised county.

As well as his cameos as a bar waiter and a probably dodgy ‘seer’ from whom Norman seeks advice, Harmage Singh Kalirai is a largely silent but compelling presence as Jishnu, known to all as Jimmy, who tends the plants.

As the action unfolds, the characters’ flaws and more positive qualities are variously revealed … Throughout the six months of their stay, which culminates in a Christmas dinner, everyone is changed by their experiences of being at the Marigold not least through the agency of their Indian hosts – who likewise reveal hidden depths.  

In the end The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel proves to be well crafted and dramatically satisfying play. En route, however, I find that elements of the production detract from the play’s qualities. Given everyone wears radio mics to amplify their voices, why is there so much shouting and declaiming? Too often I feel the story is being ‘enacted’ for us rather than inhabited by its characters in a way that compels our willing suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless most actors do have moments that capture an essence of truth in their character.

Finally, the play stands as a satirically amusing socio-political commentary on the legacy of the British Raj, as those who are living longer than their forebears confront their circumstances and attempt to navigate their uncertain futures. While avoiding spoilers let’s just say British vs Indian cuisine brings the cultural difference into focus, and the Cleaner and Sweeper conspire to break the mould.

The upbeat ending is fabulously illustrated by superb Indian dancing, which lifts my spirits greatly.


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Laughter, longing, leisure and anxiety are skillfully counter pointed in this 'sweet, warm, play'

Review by Sandi Hall 25th Apr 2024

Marigolds, which are native to Mexico and Guatemala, were brought to Europe in the 16thC by the Spanish searching for gold. The Nahua of ancient Mexico believed their sun god, Tonatiuh, gifted them this “twenty petalled flower” because it not only healed wounds, but its musky scent was also the carrier of messages back to that god.

Stewart and Tricia Macpherson and Ben McDonald’s presentation of the stage version of a literary twenty-petalled flower, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has just opened at Auckland’s Civic, running to 5 May. It then moves to Wellington’s St James for a season, 7th – 12th May.

The story of English seniors looking for sun, and another chance at life in their former colony, was first a book by British writer Deborah Moggach, published in 2004. The book’s overwhelming success propelled it to a film iteration, starring the powerfully talented Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Bill Nighy, with its author, Ms Moggach, writing the film script.  

Aotearoa’s own Helen Moulder (Gloria’s Handbag,The Bicycle & the Butcher’s Daughter, etc) gives us an impeccable Jean, wearing top of the line fashion and handing down opinions as if they are laws.

Shaan Kesha (Dairy Owner, Power Rangers, etc) is Sonny, desperately trying to marry the beautiful Sahani (Dhiya Redding, Goddess of the Night, Here I Am, etc) by raising the income level of the only asset he and his demanding widowed mother, Mrs Kapoor, have: a crumbling but still elegant hotel.

Sudeepta Vyas (A Fine Balance, Love ‘n Stuff, etc) floats Mrs Kapoor over the footlights with a convincing assurance. The scene between Mrs Kapoor and Sonny, fuelled by Mrs Kapoor’s fear that her only child and support may desert her, brings the audience to complete stillness. 

Glamorous, imperious, unstoppable Madge springs into being via Rula Lenska’s mischievous take on a character who hasn’t “been a kept woman – I started from scratch and now have spread across the Home Counties”. Bluntly spoken Muriel (Annie Ruth, Toi Whaakari) throws Madge into sharp relief with her Cockney-accented declaration for love, saying the death of her husband “’as lef a hole in m’eart.”

The story has been updated since its 2004 birth: this play includes a lesbian character, Dorothy, played by our own and inimitable Cathy Downes (The Case of Katherine Mansfield, Winter of Our Dreams, etc). Writer Deborah Moggach clearly has her tongue in her cheek when naming this character, as “being a friend of Dorothy’s” was for far too long the password into a gay landscape.  Ms Downes gives the play a moment of real stealth when she slowly reveals her sexual preference to a somewhat stunned group of her senior friends.

Paul Barrett ( Legend of the Seeker, the Z Nail Gang, etc) brings the rather needy, narcissistic Norman, to life, helped by his pleasing baritone, which is not intimidated by the Civic’s vast stage.

Constantly – almost – on set is Jimmy, a compelling character to this reviewer, played by British actor Harmage Singh Kalirai (Chicken Tikka Masala, A Very British Coup, etc). Jimmy is a sweeper, a remnant of those colonial days when just having a British accent was enough to cause misery, pain – or a paid job – for any indigenous person of India. Mr. Kalirari’s blend of invisibility, obsequiousness, and woe almost silently show colonialism “from the inside.”

I have mentioned eight of the full cast of thirteen, with no slur on those not mentioned. All did their jobs well, in my view, though some voices become tiny in the Civic’s grand space.

The set is just magnificent, perfectly placed to take advantage of the Civic’s breadth and depth.  Brock Coddington’s superb lighting gives us a cobalt night behind the Marigold Hotel’s arches and illuminates the beckoning nooks and crannies of its interior in daytime. Jimmy sweeps and sweeps its lengths and steps.

Originally created for the London stage, the costs of transporting the set to Aotearoa were prohibitive. Chris Reddington, freelance sculptor, set designer and musician in Christchurch re-created the set from Colin Richmond’s original London plans; it was then trucked across Cook Strait and up to Auckland.

Laughter, longing, leisure and anxiety are skillfully counter-pointed by the original musical soundtrack, which plays here too.  British composer Kuljit Bhamra has received an MBE for his music work, and the Auckland production shows why: bouncing vibraphone, plucked sitar strings, raga finger drums, this music design always has the story at its heart. British musician Mic Pool did the original sound design, which translates well to the Civic’s wide stage.

There was one odd moment in the play to this reviewer.  Shortly before the end of Act One, most of the players are on stage, standing, doing nothing in rather icy light, a curiously frozen moment. Presumably, director Lucy Waterhouse will snap them into action as the season zips along.

Possibly 700 other people were there with me and my Companion, who fully enjoyed this “sweet, warm play”. Perhaps 60% of the audience were seniors, which will have pleased the corporate heart of Kiwi part-sponsors, Ryman.  One of the Big Three in senior accommodation and care, New Zealand company Ryman is to be congratulated for their support in entertaining their core market.

Deliciously, I have also been gifted a ticket for the April 30th performance in the glorious Civic. So, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what other pleasures are to be found in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.


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