Thoroughly Modern Millie

There is, ironically enough, a lot that’s incredibly old-fashioned about Thoroughly Modern Millie; it’s a feel-good, song and dance show about a young gold-digger who, while seeking the security that comes from bagging a wealthy husband, instead discovers (spoilers!) that love actually is all-important when it comes to marriage—and never mind what Vogue magazine says! It’s also, unfortunately, a world where single young women who won’t be missed are liable to be “Shanghaied” into a life of prostitution by a Chinese white slave gang led by the malicious Mrs Meers, who does crude yellow-face to avoid the police.

this particular production benefits from having a genuine star in Joanne Clifton; as the titular Millie Dillmount, she proves she’s as good a singer as she is a dancer

Given the recent theatrical controversy around casting white actors in asian roles, it’s unfortunate that this production doesn’t make a speedier effort to explain why a white woman has been cast as a seemingly Chinese woman. Nor does it help that Michelle Collins, the big name performer dropped into this relatively small role, opts for a gravelly accent so crass as to be largely unintelligible. Collins has given many excellent performances in her time, but this definitely isn’t one of them—suggesting that the light comedic touch which would energise this production simply isn’t one of her things. As it happens, the only dialogue more unintelligible than her own is that of Mrs Meers’s two oppressed henchmen (played by Damian Buhagiar and Andy Yau). This is because—in a brave, if somewhat curious nod towards realism—they speak and sing in Chinese. Unfortunately, a tiny screen and lighting choices which turn everything on it totally beige means that the show’s surtitles are completely unreadable. (Frankly, by this stage of the tour, this is something that should’ve been sorted out!)

On the plus side, this particular production benefits from having a genuine star in Joanne Clifton; as the titular Millie Dillmount, she proves she’s as good a singer as she is a dancer—although, Racky Plews’ direction and choreography appear determined to pull its punches in this regard at every opportunity. One particularly iconic scene from the original film—featuring a lift that only works if you tap-dance—is included, but is set behind a screen at the back of the stage… making you wonder why they bothered recreating it in the first place.

Ably matching Clifton is this touring production’s genuine find, Sam Barrett; he has the charm, dramatic voice and honest good looks to believably carry the role of Jimmy Smith—and, given that this is his first big tour out of Arts Ed, ably repays the producers’ trust in casting him as the object of Millie’s affections. Admittedly, there’s one occasion when Barrett is understandably overshadowed by Graham MacDuff as Millie’s boss Mr Graydon, whose drunken antics in the second act are a textbook example of how to steal a show. Given that the whole cast appear to have suddenly found their groove (after a somewhat lack-lustre and by-the-numbers first half), that’s a real achievement on MacDuff’s part. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Traverse Theatre


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The Blurb

Winner of six Tony Awards, including best musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie is the delightful smash hit comedy set in New York in 1922, and based on the award-winning film.

The show delivers a brilliant evening of madcap merriment and stars Michelle Collins (EastEnders, Coronation Street) as delightfully evil Mrs Meers and Strictly Come Dancing’s Joanne Clifton as the adorable Millie. This hilarious musical comedy features spectacular dance routines and great songs. So beat the drum - here comes Thoroughly Modern Millie - grab your ticket now!