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Phil Willmott

Review: MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS at the Adelphi Theatre

Mrs Henderson Presents MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS, which is being promoted as a new British musical, has been adapted from a 2005 film of the same name which starred Judy Dench in the title role.

Mrs H was an upperclass lady who took it into her head to buy the dilapidated Windmill Theatre in London's Soho. When her hopes of a non-stop variety review failed to find an audience she hit upon the idea of parading topless show girls on her stage.

Unfortunately in the early 1940s such a thing was illegal so the old girl circumvented the Lord Chamberlin's Office, who investigated such matters, by displaying the women in still stage pictures which she claimed represented great art from the past and were therefore educational.

So far so cheeky but the theatre's other claim to fame, that they never closed despite German bombs raining down on London, is used by both the film and the musical to suggest British courage in the face of adversity. From the big deal they make of it you'd think it was a major factor in our winning the war not a reckless act to keep making money from sleazy guys wanting to ogle women's breasts.

But this is musical comedy and perhaps it's best not to examine the sexual politics too deeply. Some critics have, most notably the Evening Standard's Fiona Mountford who quite rightly raised the issue of whether we should still be gawping at naked women for our entertainment in 2016. Interestingly she also points out that the show has been entirely created by men whilst it's only the women who are significantly disrobed for our entertainment. Older, male critics, in contrast, had a lovely time.

You'll probably know right now whether you'll find semi-naked women as entertainment objectionable and should book, or not, accordingly. If you do go and leave such considerations at home you'll enjoy some witty pastiche musical numbers composed by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain and my sometime collaborator the brilliant, Oscar winning lyricist, Don Black.

Tracie Bennett is engaging and charismatic in the Dench role of Mrs Henderson but there's little dramatic tension to bolster the seaside postcard naughtiness. One of the chorus boys is sent off to fight adding a touch of grit whilst the forces of censorship, embodied in the character of the Lord Chancellor is rendered facile with a Gilbert and Sullivan style comic song, rooting his objections in outdated Victorian prudishness.

This IS a fun, glossy, big budget West End musical

I'm conflicted. This IS a fun, glossy, big budget West End musical. Writer and director Terry Johnson has done a fine job of adapting the film for the stage. There are terrific, committed performances from Emma Williams and the "gals" who sing and dance up a storm. If only they'd found a way to dramatise the past's exploitation of women in a way which wouldn't make us worry that their great grand daughters, today's West End women, aren't similarly exploited to sell theatre tickets.

I'm going to assess the showmanship alone and give it a four star rating, the dodgy sexual politics behind it deserves significantly less.

It's high gloss entertainment, all be it entertainment from a bygone era.

Send Grandad. He'll love it!

Mrs Henderson Presents