Magazine article The Spectator

Bucketloads of Panache

Magazine article The Spectator

Bucketloads of Panache

Article excerpt

Theatre Bucketloads of panache Thoroughly Modern Millie Shaftesbury Electra Gate

Thoroughly Modern Millie has a thoroughly disturbing storyline. An innocent flapper comes to New York and pitches up at a cheap guest-house run by the sinister Mrs Meers, a Chinese widow played by Maureen Lipman. Unknown to Millie, the hostel is actually a sorting depot for the white slave trade. Any girl considered sufficiently vulnerable is given a drugged apple, thrown into a laundry basket and shipped off to the Far East for a busy new life providing comfort for distressed businessmen while chained to a futon.

The New York papers are running scare-stories on the scam, but Millie and her wide-eyed girlfriends haven't the faintest idea that Mrs Meers is the trafficker-in-chief. Of course, no sane person would give an ounce of credence to this potty narrative, but, hey, this is a musical, isn't it? Check your disbelief in at the cloakroom.

Amanda Holden, as Millie, is blessed with those static looks that are not enhanced by newspaper photographs. In the flesh she comes across very differently, as a popsicle of intergalactic prettiness. That said, her acting is better suited to the screen than to the theatre. As for her voice, well, viewers of Pop Idol will be familiar with Simon Cowell's innovative grading system: Butlins (terrible), Cruise Ship (pretty bad), Average (average), Dark Horse (promising) and Top Ten (excellent). I'd give her Top Ten.

Though Holden is the figure who appears on the posters, the star of the show is Maureen Lipman. She brings everything she has to the role, and she has bucketloads. Panache, wit, pantomime exuberance, and an unexpected tragi-comic pathos. To her huge instinct for live comedy she adds an unlearnable knack of making minor grace-notes work in a theatre the size of an aircraft hanger. My guess is that this show will run for as long as Lipman cares to step up to the boilerplate.

So that's it. A great evening for everyone. Rave review finished. But I should point out, in all candour, that my pleasure was entirely synthetic. I left at the interval and slunk home in a state of exhausted relief. Normally, I wouldn't go to a musical if you paid me. But they paid me so I went. I can't stand the damn things. Of all the methods that humans have contrived for diverting themselves in the evening, the musical is the most charmless and debased. …

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