Thoroughly Modern Millie at Bristol Hippodrome has great music, great acting and great costumes. The set is a delight, the dancing sublime, and the cast flawless. Joanne Clifton as Millie is spirited, stroppy and funny, Graham McDuff as Trevor Graydon had the audience in stitches with his drunken antics, Sam Barrett as Jimmy Smith was charismatic and charming, and at all times the singing, dancing and acting were just spot on. The seated tap-dancing stenographers were a particular highlight for me, both in the incredibly precise choreography and the perfection of the fast-paced tapping and whirling.
So overall, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a wonderful spectacle, well worth seeing for the dancing and the glitter and the soppiness.
You may have caught a ‘but…’ in all this. I did come out of the theatre feeling slightly uncomfortable. Now I know that if I read Jane Austen I don’t judge the characters by modern standards, and there is a whole world of classic films which have slightly cringeworthy moments but are still great. But… there are aspects of this musical that really grate, that belong in the world of 1970’s sitcoms where it was OK to make fun of Chinese accents and where a man in a dress is inherently hilarious, where ‘white slavery’ is somehow worse than other slavery. It’s a tricky one: I freely admit I laughed at ‘Mrs Meers’ with her man-dressed-as-a-stereotypical-Chinese-woman act, where every L became an R and every R and L, and this isn’t about the actor who played the part to perfection. I laughed at the ageist remarks made to a character who played a slightly older woman. I even laughed at some of the ‘man in a dress’ easy targets.
So maybe I’m being a bit precious, a bit right-on, politically correct, whatever. What I noticed was that the audience were mostly of a generation where ‘Are You Being Served’ and the like were the height of entertainment. What I thought was about the various shades of grey that gender comes in, and the difficulty transgender people have fitting in, and how some people think it’s OK to mock them or worse. I thought about friends from different countries, including China and Japan, and how damaging stereotypes can be when you want to be taken seriously. And I thought about ‘white slavery’ in terms of, well, slavery, and the women and children of all colours and nationalities who are sold and treated as chattels, something that we all know happens in this country as well as worldwide.
So I don’t want to be that person that pisses on everyone elses fireworks, but that’s why I couldn’t fully enjoy this show as much as the performances, choreography. lighting, design and all the rest deserved. I’m not even sure if the spirit of the story could be kept without the uncomfortable parts of the script.
Overall though, I’m glad I saw it. Even if I feel slightly guilty about some of the laughs.
Thoroughly Modern Millie shows at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 24th June