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An Interview with Mily-Liu

David Cox

Aug 5, 2022

Following previews in Cardiff - which we loved - Francois Pandolfo tells us how MIly-Liu is settling in Edinburgh and what lies ahead for their Fringe.

You open tomorrow? Are you ready to go?

We are as set as Milly-Liu possibly can be. It’s a strange old show to feel prepared for because as you know some of the material is loose and Milly-Liu will respond to the crowd that is in that evening so in many ways, as an actor you can’t be fully prepared apart from trusting the work is done and you can riff away with a willing and game audience. What is the vibe like in Edinburgh at the moment? It’s actually quite quiet at the moment but I have a feeling this is the calm before the storm as the festival really kicks off on Friday.

Where did the idea for "An Audience With Milly-Lui" come from? So I had a cat called Milly (aka MuewLling) who died with the best of them in 2016 and we always imagined that if she’d been a human she would have been a silver-screen star but with an edge. Imagine if Judy Garland had been from Splott! That was her! So this show is a little homage to my diva Siamese cat and also my warped take on exploitation in the arts industry told through comedy.

Your gestures are perfect. Can I guess you are a cat person?

Thank you. That’s kind. I am an ‘all animal’ person. If I hadn’t been an actor I definitely would have done something with animals. Maybe a rescue officer or a vet… or even better, help run an elephant sanctuary. In my opinion we underestimate the happiness that animals provide and overlook their extraordinary skills! We can learn a hell of a lot from our four legged, gilled & winged world-mates. Did you have to practise necking a pint of lager or is that part of your lifestyle?

It’s a skill Milly-Liu learnt on a heavy night out with Kaa, the snake from The Jungle Book. Unhingable jaws come in very handy on pub crawls! I know from the show that I saw and other social media messages that it is going down very well. Have you been pleased by the audience reaction?

I always knew that this show had a big risk element to its themes but even though it’s a fictional cat telling her far-fetched story I used my own truth & experience in portraying the idea of loss, exploitation and sexual misconduct in an often cruel industry, so hopefully this has resonated with people. It seems to have so far. I think using comedy when approaching delicate topics such as abuses of power helps make the horror of those situations more palatable, for me and an audience, even though we should feel uncomfortable because this s**t went/goes on! It can also feel empowering to re-own those awful moments that were taken away from us, transform them, and use them to make people laugh. What an amazing thing to be able to do! It seems to be working. Time will tell. Being the writer have there been sections that have a different reaction from what you were expecting?

It’s always tricky second guessing what an audience will find funny but all you can do is write what you think is funny, hear from people along the way and make adjustments as you go. Dan Jones our director made sure we had a constant stream of willing participants join the latter parts of the rehearsal process to watch runs and get instant feedback. Trust me, there were a lot of changes happening in those last few days before opening at the Sherman. With a show like this, you have to listen to an audience but also at the same time, everyone is different and will have different reactions depending on their life experience so there comes a time when you as the writer have to stick to your guns and have faith in what it is you’re trying to say and achieve. It’s an interesting, often challenging but hugely rewarding process. Your play starts at 11.00pm. How on earth do you prepare for still being on stage at midnight? Depending on whether you are a night owl or not, doing a show at 11pm definitely comes with its challenges. I did my first show last night at The Pleasance Courtyard and I could certainly feel myself waining around 10pm so I shoved a banana in my mouth, had a cola, chanted & hoped for the best. The biggest issue for me was after the show when I was buzzing and wide awake, in full adrenaline mode. Getting to sleep was epic I can tell you. Hopefully my body clock will get used to it! Maybe I need to embody my inner night time prowling tom-cat!

I loved your name drop at the end of the show. Will you change it for an Edinburgh audience? Mmmmmm good question. Maybe David Tennent, Peter Capaldi or The Krankies.

On Thursday we will coming to see "Grandmother's Closet" ( as I couldn't get tickets in Cardiff). How is that show doing? I adore this show. It has so much heart and truth behind it. Luke has put his soul into it and I feel very privileged to have been a small part of helping Luke share the wonderful memories he shared with his Nan (Joan Doreen Hereford) who has dementia. It’s a really special story and they have an incredible relationship. He does it so beautifully as well and I am immensely proud. It’s his first Edinburgh so I feel slightly responsible and committed in making sure he has a wonderful experience. Maybe one he can add to the memory bank and that will feature somehow in another show! Who knows!

That show starts at 12.30pm. When are going to get any sleep? Between 1.30-10pm just like a cat. Don’t they sleep 17 hours a day?

In that show you are the director. How are you finding that?

It’s been really challenging as my first directing gig but hopefully for Luke I came to it from an actors point of view which made up for what I lacked in technical knowledge. Having said that we had an amazing creative team including Josh Bowles Jane Lalljee, David Harrington & Carl Davies who brought all their fabulous skillset to the table. I’m very proud of what we created together and Luke has been a dream to work with. Bobby Harding has also joined for the Edinburgh run as pianist & performer extraordinaire and they have given me real hair envy! The show continues to grow and develop but essentially it is about those special Nans‘ everywhere who created a safe space for their grandchildren. Do you go to every performance or will that just be at the start of the run?

Once the previews are done and Luke is up and running I will leave them to it. I don’t think they’ll want me breathing down their neck and noting the show consistently. Obviously i’ll check in regularly but again as an actor I know how annoying this is for a performer sometimes because there needs to be an element of trust and a willingness to let go of a show and allow it to breathe and change on its own accord. The work has been done and there has to be a passing on of ownership, otherwise a show will look and feel tired. So, writing, directing and acting, do you have a favourite?

I think I’m going to be honest here because I’ve dipped in to all three of these things recently and as much as I have loved the experience of directing (it has taught me so much about myself), I think writing and acting is where I feel most comfortable and less fearful. I can hear the voice in my head now saying that’s why i need to direct more! Damn! We've been coming to the festival since 1986 and remember our first show well. Do you remember the first shows you saw?

So Not The Simpsons by Harry Shearer & Judith Owen & The Pyjama Men at Assembly. Believe it or not I was stage managing that show. I say stage managing, I clicked a button, got free accommodation and an assembly pass so it was a great gig and a fab way of seeing lots of shows. I definitely got the bug then and remember thinking at the time, I’m going to be bringing my own shoes here one day. Fast forward 10 years and I did, first with Alix in Wundergarten and now with Milly-Liu. Who have been your favourite performers over the years? K’RD Strip at Roxy without a doubt. A New Zealand drag musical. It blew me away. And Camille who is just one of those performers who mesmerises you. I saw her again at WMC festival of voice and she ceases to astound me. What a voice! Other than your own shows who else should we be looking out for this year?

I haven’t even started making a list yet but as soon as I get five minutes I’m going to get the low down on what to see from my fellow show-house-mates and suss out the lay of the land. I’m definitely going to see all the welsh companies up here and also take a punt on some free fringe shows, which I think the festival should be about and needs to be supported. Many thanks for your time Francois & I am sure I will see you in the Scottish capital.

You can read our preview review of An Audience with Milly-Liu here

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