‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ is set in London from 1937-1941where we’re acquainted with recently widowed and highly quirky 70 year old, Mrs Laura Henderson who has just purchased the Windmill Theatre as a form of interest. To ensure that the theatre is a success, she hires theatre manager, Vivian Van Damm to manage the theatre on her behalf and to search for the performers needed for the shows. Moreover, he enlists the help and guidance from whipper-snapper, Bertie (Samuel Holmes) to discover the new talent on offer as well as the nurturing and developing of unknowns. Some of the Windmill’s performers are unlikely hopefuls such as theatre cleaner, Arthur and talentless women which men would be able to lust over. There’s an amusing amount of sparring matches between Mrs Henderson and Vivian over every single element of the productions through to the whole atmosphere of the theatre such as the façade outside. Over the course of the performance, an ill-fated romance blossoms between Maureen and backstage worker, Eddie (Matthew Malthouse), however, this coupling is not set to last though. When Vivian states that the girls would be paid considerably more if they had no clothes on whatsoever and as you’d expect the girls aren’t that impressed, but, Peggy (Katie Bernstein), Doris (Lizzy Connolly) and Vera (Lauren Hood) are up for the challenge. Due to the fact that theatre censorship is in action, the scenes would be have to be in a tableau vivant and it is then approved by Lord Cromer (Robert Hands) who is one of the official Lord Chamberlain’s. The Windmill Theatre’s shows prove to be an almighty success in particular the male audiences. As the Second World War is declared by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, Eddie is called up to serve his country and this inevitably means that Eddie and Maureen’s romance is basically over. In this period of time, the Windmill Theatre remains the only London theatre to be open and there are some lovely moments of the roof of the theatre with Maureen, Laura and Vivian, however, Maureen breaks the news that she is in fact pregnant with Eddie’s baby and she decides to hand in her resignation because of this. When Peggy, Doris and Vera come to visit her in a wartime bunker as she’s working as part of the war effort and plead for her immediate return. Tragedy strikes for the Windmill Theatre and for Maureen especially as Eddie has been killed in action and to respect his memory, Maureen comes back to the Windmill and resumes her role in the tableau vivant. At the finale, Arthur informs the audience of the theatre’s impact on the capital and how Mrs Laura Henderson and Vivian Van Damm created a revolutionary form of British entertainment. Johnson’s theatrical narrative along with music by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain and lyrics by Don Black are smashing as there’s a healthy balance of hilarious to the moving aspects of a building and personalities that were renowned for the unclothed women. Furthermore, the musical numbers for example, “Everyone Loves The Windmill”, “What a Waste of a Moon”, “We’ll Never Close” and “If Mountains Were Easy to Climb” were excellently composed and special too.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ exceedingly polished with tenacious vocals and flawless dance sequences that engrossed the wartime atmosphere and amusement. Tracie Bennett is whimsical as the eccentric, Mrs Laura Henderson; principally where we see how her lack of theatrical knowledge and expertise is really irritating Vivian, plus, the moments that are on the roof of the theatre shows us that her age and health is no exactly the greatest. Ian Bartholomew is sublime as the Windmill’s manager, Vivian Van Damm; chiefly at the point that he is trying to get Mrs Henderson’s vision on its feet with some level of difficulty but along the way he starts to like what they’re creating, in addition to this, his vocals in “Living in a Dream World” were awesome. Emma Williams is remarkable as the still image masterpiece performer, Maureen; especially where her under-confident persona at the beginning deteriorated into someone who is confident with her body image even if she is covered with a humungous feathered fan, and her behaviour towards Eddie is not exactly love in the right sense of the word. Jamie Foreman is notable as, Arthur; exclusively in the introductory and conclusion parts, on the other hand, he could be more prominent in the show and increasingly charismatic master of ceremonies and that is a shame as he’s a adaptable actor like his role as Derek Branning in soap opera, ‘Eastenders’.
Terry Johnson’s direction and Andrew Wright’s choreography is terrific here as they have been able to present us with a fun and interesting insight into this specific time in British theatre history, as well as, there’s a fabulous camaraderie that resonates through the entire musical and the characterisations are dreamy. Tim Shortall’s set design and Paul Wills’ costumes designs are opulent and wondrous as the Windmill Theatre has been crafted into another theatre building with such precision and the costumes were constructed and envisaged with the time and the female costumes specifically were beautiful. Overall, the experience of, ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ was a marvellously entertaining story that gives us the opportunity to see how Mrs Laura Henderson and her controversial theatre impacted the theatre landscape.