Photo credit: Johan Persson

Rula Lenska.jpg

Based on the novel that inspired the hit film, the world premiere stage production of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tours to the Theatre Royal Bath from 28th November to 3rd December.

Star of stage and television Rula Lenska, who leads the cast alongside Hayley Mills and Paul Nicholas, chats to us about her career and what audiences can look forward to when the show visits Bath.

What attracted you to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?


I can’t imagine anybody saying no to it. It’s on everybody’s list of favourite books and films, and it’s particularly appealing for us as a bunch of older actors. The characters have such wonderful storylines and it’s a beautifully-adapted script by Deborah Moggach, who wrote the original book. It’s full of hope, everybody’s journey is different and it’s a feel-good, beautiful piece of theatre.


How would you describe the character of Madge? And have you avoided studying Celia Imrie’s performance in the film?


She’s a rather brittle cougar who has built up her own business and is out looking for a rich maharajah with his own elephants. And no, I haven’t watched the film since landing the part. Likewise I haven’t gone back to the book. I was advised by the director [Lucy Bailey] not to because one can only portray so much with the lines one is given in the script. You want to bring your own interpretation to bear on it.

Can you relate to her in any way?


There’s always something of oneself in one’s characters. I’m an optimist by nature, as Madge is, and I’m a romantic. I’ve had a couple of husbands and she’s had three. She’s a person who never gives in or gives up, which is very much me as well. I think once you start giving in then it’s the beginning of the end. We’re at a time in our lives where this is a golden opportunity for the cast. My role isn’t particularly huge, but it’s just a joy to be part of an ensemble piece that has all its sadnesses but is also, as I say, full of hope. With the world the way it is at the moment, hope is such an important thing to hang on to.


Do you feel enough stories are being told about the older generation?


No and in my opinion there are never enough. Time goes so fast as you start getting older and there are fewer good parts, particularly for older women - which is another reason why it is a joy to be offered something like this. The whole cast are just magnificent and delightful to be with. Hayley Mills is exactly the same as she was 40 years ago and the Indian contingent are just superb. They’re so helpful, so knowledgeable and so beautiful. They’re incredible.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Hayley Mills as Evelyn and Rula Lenska as Madge - Credit
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Anant Varman as Mohan and Kerena Jagpal as Kamila - Credi

"There’s always something of oneself in one’s characters. I’m an optimist by nature, as Madge is, and I’m a romantic. I’ve had a couple of husbands and she’s had three."

Have you worked with any of your co-stars before?


I haven’t, no. I’ve known Hayley for many years but we haven’t worked together previously. Likewise, I haven’t worked with the rest of the cast but it’s a delight to watch each one of them find their way, develop their characters and develop our relationships with each other. And the set is magnificent; this dilapidated old Raj palace which is decaying but full of charm. 


Why do you think this story resonates with people so much?


Like the book and the film, it’s about having a new lease of life. This story is what people need at the moment. There’s been so much sadness, so much fear, so much anxiety, and while the story is very true and very real it’s also escapism. It’s full of brightness, sunshine and discoveries. It’s magical. 

You’ve had such a varied career. What have been your highlights?


There have been many, with the first real highlight being Rock Follies. I will never forget it. It was an extraordinary piece of television and it put me on the map. It had fantastic storylines, fantastic music and fantastic fantasy sequences. There have been many theatre pieces, doing Same Time, Next Year with my ex-husband [Dennis Waterman] and the play 84 Charing Cross Road - which up until now I think is probably my greatest triumph. Then there have been many, many television appearances, most recently in Coronation Street. I also absolutely loved working on Robin of Sherwood, Doctor Who… loads and loads of things.


What do you most enjoy about stage work?


I love the rehearsal process, where you get a bunch of people who you don’t know but some of whom you know about and you’ve seen their work. Then you all go on this journey together - not just the cast but the crew and production team - from the first day of rehearsal until you open. When you do television or film your definitive performance is not really your choice. You do something, then it’s cut together by directors and editors. On stage you are in charge and your performance continues to grow as you develop and discover new things. It’s a constant work in progress. And when you feel that you have the audience in the palm of your hands - whether it’s making them laugh, making them think, making them sad, making them happy - it’s a wonderful feeling.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tours to the Theatre Royal Bath from Monday 28th November to Saturday 3rd December. Tickets are on sale at the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 and online at

When were you last on stage?


I was in a play earlier this year called Evelyn at Southwark Playhouse. I played a woman with dementia who’s an ageing hippie, still smokes dope and swears like a trooper. And the last time I toured was in Pygmalion with Alastair McGowan in 2014.


What are you most looking forward to about taking The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel around the country?


I’m looking forward to performing in enthusiastic venues, which I’m in no doubt will happen because everyone one mentions it to says ‘It’s my favourite film’ or ‘I love the book’. I think it appeals across the ages. And when you’re touring in a good show with a cast who all get on with each other it’s the greatest fun. Of course it’s also tiring, going from one end of the country to the other, but I do think this is going to be tremendous fun.


What do you hope audiences take away from seeing the show?


I hope they’ll be uplifted, enchanted, sometimes maybe a bit tearful but generally leaving the theatre with a good feeling in their hearts and their souls. 


Is there anything you couldn’t be on tour without?


My pillow with a silk pillowcase. Because I’ve done a lot of touring, I tend to make wherever I go into a mini home. I don’t stay in hotels, I prefer to get self-contained accommodation or an attic room with an en suite not too far away from the theatre.