Theatre: The best lesson in late-life joie de vivre

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with Hayley Mills and Rula Lenska

Picture: Johan Persson
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with Hayley Mills and Rula Lenska Picture: Johan Persson

IF RECENT events have taught us anything it’s that the final curtain can descend at any time, not necessarily at the bottom of the last page of the script we have in our heads.

Indeed, our lives are fragile.

This theme – let’s make the most of it while we can – is being sold to us next week in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Beginning life as a novel, which then became a hugely successful film starring Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy (taking £82 million at the box office, costing six million to make) it has now been reimagined as a theatre show.

The story features a group of British retirees who decide on a last throw of the dice and take off on an adventure to live in India.

The move to Rajasthan allows them to test themselves in a new world, to taste a new culture, and hopefully meet like-minded souls. And at the same time leave the aching British care system behind, and those who can’t care for their elders as much as they should.

But in any drama there are delicious pitfalls; the luxury residence in which the escapees hoped to live closely resembles a midden.

However, as their lives begin to intertwine and they embrace the vibrancy of modern-day India, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways.

Acting legend Hayley Mills stars as Evelyn, the character played by Dench in the film. At 76 and touring the country, Mills is clearly still in search of challenges.

“I absolutely loved the script and there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt about wanting to do it,” she says of the play.

“Like most people, I was familiar with the title and the story. I had seen the film and there’s something about the story that just gets you. It’s very truthful and it deals with lots of different issues – such as getting older, being on your own – whilst being tremendously hopeful. It’s a reminder that where there’s life there’s hope.”

Hayley Mills says she can relate to her character Evelyn, who declares on arrival at the dump they assumed to be palatial: “Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realise it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side.”

Mills loves the sentiment. “She’s such a beautifully-written character and I can relate to her age, plus the fact we all look back on our lives realising that we’ve made mistakes.”

Life is about acknowledging regrets, and moving on. Mills certainly has no regrets about following in the footsteps of Dame Judi. “She is a wonderful actress and I couldn’t begin to play Evelyn the way she did.”

The Marigold storyline – its emphasis, its positivity – is in itself an inspirational force for the cast such as Mills, Paul Nicholas and Rula Lenska.

“I think we see ourselves in it,” says Mills. “If we’re lucky we’re all going to get old. It’s a reminder that starting a new life is always possible.

“I don’t necessarily mean finding another love or another marriage, it’s more about finding a new lease of life, new interests, a new joie de vivre.”

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Theatre Royal, September 27 – October 1.

Don’t Miss: The incomparable David Hayman stars as Bob Cunningham, the story of a man reflecting on his life from a hospital bed – when he should be walking the West Highland Way - in Time’s Plague, the Beacon Theatre, Greenock, September 28.

THERE are plenty of questions raised by The Osmonds, A New Musical, written by Jay Osmond, above. And questions. Were the white-toothed, perennially cheerful brothers from Utah too nice and squeaky clean to have had a pop life worth writing about?

How did the boys in the band feel when Donny’s arrival onstage dragged them from the pop-rock world into the land of “bubble-gum”? How do you keep seven egos in check, decide who holds the power? Then there’s the religious factor. In the 1960s and 1970s, The Osmonds were rarely described without the adjective “Mormon” attached.

All these questions are dealt with in the show that came about when Jay Osmond met with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s producers and five years later the story was completed. Jay knew it couldn’t be just a series of links connecting the 30 songs performed in the show. “I wanted to show the different sides of The Osmonds. People knew we had a tight-knit group but no-one knew the reason for this. I wanted to reveal what made us tough [dad George instilled this] ...We had a lot of different people telling us what to do. Yet all the time we had to make the decisions that were best for the family.”

It’s a dynamic few groups have to contemplate. “But I think we pulled it off. We’ve had people come up and say, ‘Wow, what a boy band!’ And they’re talking of a band that was in the charts 50 years ago.”

Indeed. The Osmond’s story is tale of longevity. And fun. And some very good songs.

The Osmonds: A new musical, the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, tonight.