What’s it all about?
You’ve heard of the Windmill Theatre? The one that pioneered nude tableaux as entertainment and resolutely remained open during the Blitz? This is its story. Sort of.
In fact, it’s far less about nudity – though there’s a plentiful amount of it – and far more the story of a widow rediscovering joy in her life, an ordinary girl making extraordinary decisions and a nation facing the realities of war.
Who’s in it?
Emma Williams gives the bravest performance you’ll see by a leading lady this year, baring her soul and everything else to expose the steely core of Maureen, the coffee shop girl thrust into the limelight. It’s a courageous, emotional and pitch-perfect performance that bets the question Why haven’t we seen Williams in the West End since Love Story five years ago?
Tracie Bennett, with her inimitable vocals, provides a vivacious, single-minded, life-affirming Mrs Henderson, the theatre owner whose passion and verve keeps everything going.
What should I look out for?
Inevitably the tableaux scenes. Quite rightly there is little of the lascivious about them; any cheeky smut is saved for narrator/comedian Arthur, meaning these scenes are pictures of grace, beauty and bravery. As bombs fall around the statuesque performers, they send a resolute message to Hitler that will stick in the mind for some time.
Andrew Wright’s choreography, particularly in scenes involving the censorious Lord Chamberlain. It’s reminiscent of Stephen Mear’s sharp, swift Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but with hugely heightened levels of ridiculousness.
What will I be humming?
The roof-raising, neck hair-lifting, tingle down the spine-inducing ode to resilience and aiming high, If Mountains Were Easy To Climb, which beautifully brings together Williams and Bennett’s voices.
Who was in the press night crowd?
Oh, the usual mix of celebs were in attendance. More exciting was the on stage arrival, during the curtain call, of the original Windmill Girls. Unsurprisingly they received the evening’s loudest round of applause.
In a nutshell?
The stunning Emma Williams gives the most fearless performance you’ll see this year in this brilliantly British tale of pluck, fight, blitz spirit and heart.
What’s being said on Twitter?
Will I like it?
Mrs Henderson Presents pulls off the clever trick of having the heart and soul of a classic musical while harbouring the most relevant ideas about hiding from the realities of life and conflict
Does it question why women disrobing for the pleasure of men is considered good clean fun? Possibly not. Does it show that choice as one of empowerment and strength? It absolutely does.
Don’t let the marketing fool you, there’s much more to this than flesh-flashing. For all its jollity, exposure and fun, it is its heart, its tale of unlikely friendships and of triumph in the face of adversity that will have the tears creeping into the corner of your eyes by the end of the evening.
Mrs Henderson Presents is booking at the Noël Coward Theatre until 18 June. You can book tickets through us here.
Noël Coward Theatre (Albery)