There's nothing retiring about Mrs Henderson, despite being of an age when most of us would like to put our feet up. Recently widowed and looking for a challenge, the eccentric Laura Henderson buys up a run-down cinema on Windmill Street and within months is presenting a bill of non-stop variety acts. Running day and night, every day of the week, her shows become the hot topic of the town. And even when the Blitz hits London, crowds still clamber to get a seat at her show as Mrs Henderson declares 'We Never Close'.
The secret to her success? Mrs Henderson presents her glamorous Windmill Girl as nude statues.
Shown off just like Venus in her birthday suit displayed in the National Gallery, Mrs Hendersons' girls defy the Lord Chamberlain's objections, common attitudes to what a woman should be, and even Hitler in the end.
It's all a fascinating bit of real-life history that a stellar cast are now bringing to life at the Noel Coward Theatre in a brand new musical, adpated from the much-acclaimed film starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.
Carry On stripping, you'll be pleased to hear, this isn't, and the show is done with just the right touch of cheek, good humour and taste. It's rather like Calendar Girls meets the 1940s and in the scenes where the girls finally reveal all, there's thankfully not so much as a sniggering teenage boy in sight. Hearty guffaws of fun from the audience, though, there are in abundance.
It's a swish, glamorous show with plenty of gorgeous moments throughout. Emma Williams as principal Windmill Girl, Maureen, sparkles in her empowering role with some beautiful vocals and impressively nifty feather work. In the second half when the story starts to taste a little sour and the gags fall a little flatter, she reclaims the night with an incredibly moving performance of If Mountains Were Easy to Climb.
Similarly, Tracie Bennett fills every inch of the giant shoes left by Judi Dench to play Mrs Henderson as the true powerhouse of variety entertainment. A fire-cracker of energy, she perfectly captures the bawdy but brave personality of Mrs Henderson and handles the tragic and titillating moments with equal skill in a way the rest of the show didn't always manage to pull off.
The music of Mrs Henderson Presents isn't the stuff you later end up singing all the way down to Piccadilly – although I did love the Andrews Sisters' style number that opened the second half. But it nonetheless is an evening of naughtily nostalgic good fun.