Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Matthew Iliffe: Thoroughly Modern Millie

By | Published on Thursday 13 August 2015

You might be familiar with the original film starring Julie Andrews, or the Broadway musical that followed it years later. But any lover of musicals should probably consider adding this revival of ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at the Landor Theatre to their ‘to see list’.


As someone whose always been a bit of a flapper at heart, my ears pricked up when I heard about this one. I sent some questions over to the show’s up and coming director Matthew Iliffe.

CM: Can you tell us what the show is about? Where does the story take us?
MI: Thoroughly Modern Millie is a musical comedy which tells the story of a young girl who leaves her small town in Kansas to find a new life in the bright lights of New York during the roaring 20s. The show is filled with frisky flappers, dashing young men, a dragon-lady of a villain, and of course some unforgettable show tunes and dance numbers.

CM: This is a revival, obviously, but can you tell us a bit about the show’s history?
MI: The show is based on the Julie Andrews film of the same name, and opened on Broadway in 2002 – and won 6 TONY Awards including Best New Musical. It then opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Amanda Holden in 2003 and was nominated for 3 Olivier Awards. This is the show’s first revival in London since then, which is really exciting.

CM: What made you decide to stage a London revival of the show now?
MI: I felt a London revival was long overdue, particularly since the score is so strong. I also wanted the show to have a quirky and intimate feel to it, which is why the Landor Theatre is the perfect venue. But ultimately, this show has entertainment value – it’s a feel-good, joyous romp – an affectionate postcard of the early 20s and Broadway musicals.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast you have assembled for this?
MI: Casting Director Anne Vosser has put together a really vibrant young cast, some of whom are new graduates and some have got West End credits from shows like ‘Mama Mia’, ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Top Hat’. Francesca Lara Gordon is playing the role of Millie, and she’s a real find. Such a young cast bring real verve to a show, which is fitting for a musical about young people coming to a big city to find themselves.

CM: Have you directed any other musicals before? Is there a big difference between directing theatre and musical theatre…?
MI: Yes, despite a long love of the genre, this is my first musical. Musicals are more complex in their nature, just because there are many more components. However, it’s that challenging nature of musical theatre, which makes it so much fun to put together. The creative input has been enormous and hugely enjoyable.

CM: What made you want to become a director?
MI: I saw Timothy Sheader’s fantastic production of Into The Woods at Regent’s Park a few years ago, and noted how different it was to the Broadway DVD I’d seen. That’s when I recognised and admired the job of a director.

CM: As a young and upcoming director, would you have any advice for those wishing to follow a similar career path?
MI: I really don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I was very lucky and happened to get a place on the StoneCrabs Young Directors’ Programme, which is a free training course at The Albany in Deptford. They act as a springboard for emerging creatives and do fantastic work. If you can access that kind of course, do. Also, I’ve been fortunate to find SDWC Productions, the producers willing to support me and my work.

CM: What are your big career ambitions? Where do you see yourself headed?
MI: I think I’ll be creating work on the fringe for a while yet, after that, who knows? It’d obviously be lovely to work in London’s subsidised sector, but who doesn’t want that?!

CM: What’s coming up in your immediate future? Any new stuff on the way?
MI: Yes, I’m directing a new play in January 2016 in London. After that I’m doing the UK premiere of an Off-Broadway musical, but I can’t say anything about that yet, or I’ll get into trouble…

‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ is on at the Landor Theatre from 18 August until 13 September. See the venue website here for more info and tickets.

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