Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark’s timeless creation, is an enigma. Fiery, passionate, flawed, vulnerable, she is both an inspiration and a terrible warning. A teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, her educational methods are regarded as eccentric at best, dangerous at worst, by the establishment. Supremely unconcerned, eternally in her prime, she sweeps her girls, her “crème de la crème” through history, music, politics and love, on a tempestuous voyage which will ultimately change the course of all of their lives.
This adaptation by Jay Presson Allen, faithful to both Spark’s book and to the film, which Allen also wrote, is neither original nor adventurous. However it does offer a chance to wallow in some comfortable nostalgia, and to spend time with the fascinating Miss Brodie in a small, intimate setting.
Kate Sanderson brings a brittle, snapping magnetism to the title character. Her Miss Brodie is at her best when she is in a passion; her classroom monologues are rather rote-like and colourless, but when she is berating the hapless Mr Lowther, surrendering herself to the seedy Mr Lloyd or furiously defending herself against the prim Mrs Mackay, her eyes flash and she is magnificent.
Her girls pull off the tricky aging process with aplomb, managing the transition from giggling ten-year olds to awkward adolescents with skill and charm. Particular note must go to Juliette Power as the stuttering, sunny Mary MacGregor, and to Alana Ross as Sandy, whose journey from adoration to betrayal is convincing, and painful to watch. The conceit of the eager journalist visiting one of the girls in her new incarnation as Sister Helena may be heavy-handed and pregnant with foreshadowing, but it does help to ramp up the anticipation, and Viv Creegor is tantalisingly enigmatic as the sister.
The staging in such a small space is managed expertly, with the removal or addition of one or two items of furniture and the flipping of a painting, often done by the girls while they chat to each other, turning a classroom into a nunnery into a studio with no hiccups or breaks in the flow. The use of backstage singing brings an extra layer to the dimensions of the play, implying that although the action may be taking place in a confined space, the ramifications could spread a lot wider. The action and dialogue occasionally seem rushed, with actors almost flinging themselves headlong off the stage in their hurry to exit, but this may have been a laudable attempt to speed up the slightly overlong second half. Thankfully it doesn’t detract from the impact of the story; the topless scene is appropriately shocking and cringe-making, and Miss Brodie’s earth-shattering battles and discoveries are poignant. It would have been satisfying to see the fascist threat made rather more menacing, and a clearer parallel drawn with Miss Brodie’s increasingly dictatorial teaching methods, but these are mere quibbles.
It’s funny how delightful it can be to spend time with characters who are not entirely likeable, and how much we can be made to care about what happens to them, if the production is only done well enough. In this case, I cared very much indeed.
Review by Genni Trickett
THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Jay Presson Allen
Directed by Nadine Hanwell and adapted from the novel by Muriel Spark
“Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life”…
In a leafy Edinburgh suburb in 1931, Jean Brodie is a woman ahead of her time. Educated and seemingly independent, she passionately extols to her young pupils the importance of truth, beauty, and the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Her favourite girls, the ‘crème de la crème’ will surely be her masterpiece. Miss Brodie diligently excludes any outsiders from her little set – but can the world be kept out forever?
Kate Sandison – Jean Brodie, Alana Ross – Sandy, Juliette Power – Mary MacGregor, Katie McIvor – Monica, Lizzie Hiscott – Jenny, Tim Major – Teddy Lloyd, Jack Govan – Gordon Lowther, Sue Parker-Nutley – Miss MacKay, Viv Creegor – Sister Helena, Andrew Leishman – Mr Perry.
Costume Designer/Designer – Jean Christie
Graphic Designer – Henry Strong
Lighting Designer/Stage manager – Darion Marshall
PERFORMANCES – Tuesdays to Saturdays (7.30 p.m.) Sundays (6.30 p.m.)
ADMISSION: £12 (£10 Concessions)
8th February 2014 to 9th March 2014
Barons Court Theatre
BOX OFFICE: 020 8932 4747
Wednesday 26th February 2014