Herewith, a biographical show exposing the bare facts framed in a portrait of Mrs Henderson, a formidable widow who purchased London’s Windmill Theatre in the 1930s. In an entrepreneurial move, the financially comfortable (late husband’s will) Laura Henderson revived the theatre’s image by including female nudity in the variety revues (“Revudeville”). This combination became popular during the Second World War as the Windmill remained open during the blitz. The shows were tittlating and a bit on the naughty side, but as the main attraction, the unclothed beauties were presented as tableaus of statues conforming to the Lord Chamberlain’s rules against stage nudity. As long as the ladies remained still, the guardian of public morals was appeased.
The sudden onslaught of the unclad form was a kickback to the Victorian prudishness of British society. Even though the nude segments were tastefully presented, it was a sudden and stunning shakeup to the public’s stiff-upper-lip sensibilities. The jokes and plot are of the risqué and (tsk, tsk) naughty variety which titilate more than shock, echoing the good, clean, safe cheeky plots of “Calendar Girls” and “The Full Monty”. A sense of subversive mischief is secondary to the joyous lust the show celebrates.
Its a delightfully told tale adapted from the 2005 film starring Judi Dench. On stage in Toronto, Tracie Bennett claims the character with scene chewing gusto inserting a brassy “Iron Lady” bite into Mrs Henderson’s personality. A woman who knows what she wants defying the odds, launching a daring public display of sensuality in a time of sexual reserve.
Music Hall/variety entertainments of the day made no pretense to being high art, but were good shows with the patriotic warmth and charm of a pint at the pub. A tip of the bowler to “Mrs Henderson Presents,” a good show at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre through April 23.