Everyone has that teacher that they never forget. Sometimes it’s because they were brilliant, sometimes it’s because they bent the rules, sometimes it’s because they were so bloody-minded that they remain so unforgettable. For the selected few pupils of Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls who found themselves in the orbit of the entirely charismatic Miss Jean Brodie, it’s all three reasons at the same time that are destined to make her such an iconic figure in their schooling.
Based on the novel by Muriel Sparks, David Harrower’s new stage adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie not only marks the 100th anniversary year of Spark’s birth but provides a scorchingly fantastic opportunity for Lia Williams to inhabit the title role so fully as to sit proudly aside Maggie Smith’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1969 film. It’s a stunning piece of acting – elevated by stunning wig and costume work – that captures so much of that beguiling power that a teacher can possess.
Having selected her ‘set’, Miss Brodie delights in flaunting the strict rule of headmistress Miss Mackay and her curriculum, opting instead to explore her twin passions of art history and fascist rulers like Franco and Mussolini. And as she flirts with both music teacher Mr Lowther and art tutor Mr Lloyd, a sense of danger creeps into her interactions with everyone at the school. This is highlighted by Harrower’s framing device which sees one of those former pupils Sandy, now a novelist, being interviewed about her past.
Polly Findlay’s production for the Donmar Warehouse really is excellent. As already mentioned, Williams is perfectly cast as she hovers like the most elegant of butterflies around her charges yet flinches aghast at any display of true emotion. Rona Morison is powerful as Sandy, the most intelligent of the pupils and the one who comes closest to seeing Miss Brodie for who she really is. There’s also strong work from Nicola Coughlan’s Joyce, stuck on the outside of the select few, Angus Wright’s kindly music teacher, and Sylvestra Le Touzel as the officious Miss Mackay.
Lizzie Clachan’s austere design of bells and wooden chairs has a penitentiary grace to it, with a neat flourish of Charles Rennie Mackintosh inspiration to remind us just where we are, and Charles Balfour’s lighting helps to navigate flashes from past to present with a real fluidity. Dramatically, there may not be a huge amount that happens here but so beautifully realised is The Prime of Jean Brodie, that this is one classroom you’ll yearn to stay in long after the bell has rung for home time.
Review by Ian Foster
The Donmar Warehouse stages a new adaptation of Muriel Spark’s iconic novel, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, by playwright David Harrower. This production is directed by Polly Findlay and stars Lia Williams in the title role.
At Marcia Blaine School for Girls, Miss Jean Brodie presides over her ‘set’, her chosen few. In return for their absolute devotion, Miss Brodie will provide an education far beyond the confines of the curriculum.
Great teachers leave a mark. Miss Jean Brodie’s will never be erased.
Cast includes Lia Williams, Rona Morison, Nicola Coughlan, Emma Hindle, Edward Mackliam, Grace Saif, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Helena Wilson, Angus Wright and Kit Young.
A new adaptation by David Harrower
Based on the novel by Muriel Spark
Director Polly Findlay
Designer Lizzie Clachan
Lighting Designer Charles Balfour
Sound Design Paul Arditti
Composition Marc Tritschler
Movement Director Naomi Said
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LX
4th June to 28th July 2018