‘This is one classroom you’ll yearn to stay in’: THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE – Donmar Warehouse

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

Donmar Warehouse, London – until 28 July 2018

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 hometime.

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Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on FacebookIan Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."