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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Thoroughly Modern Millie
The Landor Theatre
30th August 2015

★★★★☆

The ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie

Photography provided by the Landor Theatre

In the unlikely event you've never heard of the musical or film (which cave have you been hiding in?), let me point out that the adjective in Thoroughly Modern Millie is used rather loosely - modern here refers to the early 1920s. Fashion from over 90 years ago really is cutting-edge as far as this show goes. Oh, more to come on costumes later... It took over three decades for the 1967 movie starring Julie Andrews to be adapted into this stage format, but don't draw any conclusions from that delay, this effervescent story works superbly as a live piece of theatre.

In this return to the boards, Francesca Lara Gordon stars as Millie Dillmount, demonstrating to us what a bit of glamour and jazz can do for the intimate space of the Landor Theatre. Today we confuse sexual liberation with over-sexualisation: the 1920s saw a shift from corsetry and curves to loose-fitting fabrics and straight lines, and brought increased female independence at the same time. Millie, the country girl landing for the first time in the big city and trying to live up to the idea of the modern woman, has a boyish figure with neckline and hairline both trying to meet at the chin. She doesn't seek sex, sex and sex, but marriage - although shallowly only for money. Whilst Gordon as Millie may seem slightly too meek or "nice" in the role, she sasses about enough to overcome this, and reminds us that her character's true origins are plain and demure.

Alongside Gordon are an array of co-flappers: Christina Meehan, Charlie Johnson and Chipo Kureya, all of whom do a swell job of appearing vapidly excitable in the wake of Millie's escapades. The ensemble numbers (Not for the Life of Me, Thoroughly Modern Millie) are upbeat, refreshing and on point. The band (under the musical direction of Chris Guard), cramped into the corner of the stage, are noticeably well-disciplined and despite fears that having them so close would drown out the singers (surprisingly un-miked) kept themselves in check.

My personal favourite among the cast was the quirkily comical Sarah-Marie Maxwell who has mastered the tongue-in-cheek razzmatazz that this whole musical should be dripping with. Maxwell also hits the highest climactic notes on several of the more romantic harmonies (Falling in Love With Someone, I Turned the Corner), which is a remarkable feat and perhaps shows up some of the other singers.

The main love interest, Jimmy Smith (Ben Stacey) is the suave fast-talking charmer he needs to be, confidently eye-twinkling his way through the patter, however perhaps lacks the sharpness to quite make it perfect. The other main male part, Trevor Grayson III (Samuel Harris) got the subtle repression that his gentrified character should have, and his tenor was well-refined. Impressively Harris also mastered the most technically difficult show tune outside of Gilbert and Sullivan: The Speed Test, an interview to see whether Millie can cope stenographically with Trevor's dictation.

Another key figure is of course Mrs Meers (Steph Parry) - main villain and the most pantomime of all the characters. Parry's comic timing is also spot on, sneaking the right look and controlling the voice carefully to really hold the audience through the somewhat convoluted plot. Backing up the nefarious schemings are Ching Ho (Alex Codd) and Bun Foo (Anthony Starr), who stick to (I assume) some form of Chinese, which is rather hastily subtitled via projector. The words unfortunately come and go too fast and don't quite capture the intelligence of the lyrics.

Another niggle was the delivery by lounge-singer Muzzy Van Hossmere (Kureya); a minor character but with two belting songs (Only in New York and Long as I'm Here with You), that don't quite belt enough. Kureya does however go some way to making up for this with one or two very "out there" dance moves. Sam Spencer Lee's choreography is clever, and utilises the small space extremely well. It was nice to have surprises throughout the dances, and random moves sprinkled throughout other scenes were very entertaining. Andrew Riley's set design is arresting, though his costumes - while reasonably dapper, are not the Coco Chanel signatures we might have hoped for.

All in all, this is a great production that highlights the deplorable absence of Thoroughly Modern Millie from London theatre. Although it may be a revival, I'd love to see the musical return to the mainstream. With plenty of glitz and some splendid performances, Millie may not be thoroughly modern, but she is thoroughly fun.

Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on 18th August and runs until 13th September 2015 at the Landor Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Clapham North (Northern)



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