Paul Nicholas on The Positive Message of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at Cardiff’s New Theatre

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel plays Cardiff’s New Theatre from March 7. The play takes the audience on a journey to India with an eclectic group of British retirees as they embark on a new life. The luxury residence is far from the opulence they were promised, but as their lives begin to intertwine and they embrace the vibrancy of modern-day India, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways.

Paul Nicholas will play Douglas. Paul became a household favourite in the role of Vince Pinner in the celebrated British sitcom Just Good Friends which won the BAFTA award for Best Comedy Series. Paul has continued to star in many TV series including the evil Gavin Sullivan in EastEnders and can be seen as himself in the BAFTA-nominated series The Real Marigold Hotel and Marigold On Tour.

On stage, Paul’s theatrical success began more than fifty years ago in 1968 when he originated the role of Claude in the London premiere of Hair. Following this, in 1972 he originated the role of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. He starred as Danny Zuko in the original West End production of Grease with Elaine Page and as the Rum Tum Tugger in the original production of Cats. Here, Paul discusses his latest stage role.

Paul Nicholas in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which plays Cardiff’s New Theatre from Tuesday 7 - Saturday 11 March 2023.
Paul Nicholas returns to the stage as Douglas in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Credit: Johan Persson

What first attracted you to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

The book was successful, and the film had been successful; it was one of the lead roles, and I’m used to touring and I enjoy it. When I read the script, I thought, ‘I can see this working on stage’ and so far, it’s proven popular with audiences, particularly at the start of the tour when they were initially reluctant to return to the theatre because of Covid. They’ve gotten over that now and we’ve had fantastic houses.

How would you describe Douglas?

His wife somewhat dominates him, he’s been married quite a long time, and there’s a romantic element to the part in that he finds solace with a woman named Evelyn even at the ripe old age of 70-plus. It’s nice to show that romantic side to a couple in their later years.

Can you relate to him in any way?

I understand him for sure. [Laughs] That doesn’t mean I’m dominated by my wife, although I have been married for 50 years so there must be a little bit of that in there somewhere. Also, you can tell if something is written with empathy and understanding, and this is that. You have to find a little of yourself in everything you do, but it’s 50 years since I first did Jesus Christ Superstar, and it would be slightly difficult to equate myself with that part.

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

Obviously, it appeals to an older audience. Well, it appeals across the board but particularly to older people because of the characters and the themes. And people can get to far-flung places much easier these days. It’s cheaper to go and live abroad, especially now, and the idea of moving around the world isn’t so alien to older people. So, the older generation can relate to that aspect as well as the dialogue and what the characters are going through. You get all the foibles of being older, which audiences recognise within themselves – such as the various ailments you become aware of – but there’s also the message that you don’t have to give up on life. You can still have a lot of fun, and you can still go places and enjoy yourself. That’s a positive message.

Do you think younger audiences will learn anything from it?

I do, yes. I think they’ll learn that life doesn’t end when you get to 40. I’m 78, and I feel that if you look after yourself, keep yourself reasonably trim, do a bit of walking, and what have you, then there’s no reason why you can’t go on for as long as possible. Work, for me is the key. So long as you’re still employed, and people want you, it makes you feel a part of the world and part of what’s going on. In terms of health, I don’t go to a gym or anything, but I gave up smoking 25 or 30 years ago. It’s a terrible noose around your neck, so if you can start with that, you’re heading in the right direction. I firmly believe that if you don’t indulge too much – you don’t overeat, drink too much or do anything too much – you can keep going, please God.

Had you worked with Hayley Mills and Rula Lenska, who play Evelyn and Madge, before?

No, I hadn’t, although I knew Hayley’s films from when I was young, and I was aware of Rula’s work. They’re both wonderful in the show, and I especially enjoy working with Hayley because we have a lot of scenes together. She’s very good and very sensitive in the way she acts. She’s very believable as that character, and it helps if you’re performing opposite someone and thinking ‘Yeah, you’re doing it spot-on’. Hopefully, she feels the same way about me, but her performance helps me do a reasonable job with my character.

Tessa Peake-Jones shares the distinction of appearing in a John Sullivan penned TV comedy along with Paul Nicholas. Both will feature in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when it plays Cardiff’s New Theatre.

New to the cast this year is Tessa Peake-Jones. Have your professional paths crossed previously?

No, they haven’t, but Tessa is so well-respected, and we have the writer John Sullivan in common. He wrote Only Fools and Horses, which Tessa was in, and Just Good Friends, which I was in, and we were both lucky to have John’s writing because he was a one-off, brilliant comedy writer. So I’m really looking forward to working with her.

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

They’ve all been highlights. I especially enjoyed playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof because it’s about family and has a lot of depth and some great numbers. This show is also a highlight because it’s brand-new as a stage production and about characters; it’s about people rather than the plotline and I’m really enjoying doing it. On TV Just Good Friends was a real highlight because it was a successful, BAFTA-winning sitcom. I also enjoyed doing the series Bust, and there were a couple of musical films, like Tommy and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But I tend not to look back. I prefer to think, ‘What’s next?’ and I like to keep busy. I’ve just released a 3-cd set of all the pop songs I did and show tunes called Paul Nicholas Gold and I’ve done an audiobook version of my autobiography Musicals, Marigolds & Me. Over the years, I’ve also produced with Grease, Saturday Night Fever and various other shows.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will play Cardiff’s New Theatre in March 2023

Speaking of pop songs, how was it being a 1970s pop star?

Well, I was for a while. I started out as a rock piano player for Screaming Lord Sutch, and your dream is to have a hit record when you’re in that world. I didn’t manage it as a young man but when I got to 30, I decided to give it another go, found a song called Reggae Like It Used to Be and had a few hits off the back of that. I got it out of my system, and it was fun to do.

A few years ago, you did The Real Marigold Hotel on TV. What was your takeaway from that experience?

It was a great show to do because it wasn’t a competition and you couldn’t get voted off, which must be hard for people who appear on some of those reality TV shows. I know they get well-paid for it, but the idea of eating bugs doesn’t really appeal to me, not even for a lot of money, nor does the idea that you might get booted off at any time. Doing The Real Marigold Hotel was different because you couldn’t get voted off, you were travelling with people of a similar age, you were there to observe rather than compete and I’d never normally have gone to India. We also went to Mexico, Iceland and Thailand. The people I went away with, like Lionel Blair, were very nice and it was an exciting experience.

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