As someone raised on West End musicals, I’ve grown used to grand spectacles, produced on a huge scale and a big budget, with lavish sets and an army of stage crew. It never would have occurred to me that you could present a show of that kind in a fringe theatre, with a cast of twelve and a band of five. Yet Thoroughly Modern Millie, at the tiny and intimate Landor Theatre, does just that – and is easily as entertaining as any of those big productions.
Derived in 2002 from the 1967 Julie Andrews movie, Thoroughly Modern Millie is thoroughly old fashioned. It’s sexist: all the women are actresses or typists; racist: landlady Mrs Meers feigns orientalism and speaks pantomime Cantonese to her migrant Hong Kong laundrymen; heteronormative: every flapper’s ambition is to secure a rich businessman husband and even white slavery is dismissed as “well, it’s one way to get a man”, but so heartwarming and jolly you can almost forgive its cartoon morality.
The twenties don’t so much roar as whimper in SDWC’s new revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Landor. Matthew Iliffe’s production strips back not only the set and cast, but also the life and soul of the show, leaving us with a raw and undercooked slog of questionable casting and dull direction.