As Muriel Spark’s best-known work (and one of my favourite novels), David Harrower’s adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has a lot to live up to. This arresting production certainly hits the spot!
When the charismatic Miss Brodie (Lia Williams) starts teaching at a girls’ junior school in 1930’s Edinburgh, she causes a stir with her unorthodox teaching methods. She singles out a group of loyal girls, making them her confidantes and attempting to mould their futures: ‘Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life’.
Harrower chooses to tell the story through a shrewd framing device, using an interview with Miss Brodie’s now grown-up pupil to explore life as part of Miss Brodie’s set. About to take the veil, Sandy Stranger (Rona Morison) remembers her old teacher with mixed feelings.
This faithful adaptation perfectly captures the mood of the novel. Omitting none of Miss Brodie’s best-known phrases, it’s clear from the get-go that Spark’s masterpiece is in good hands here.
Polly Findlay’s economic direction has the audience flitting between school and convent with elegant simplicity. From the tolling of bells to the stripped-back wooden chairs and grey uniforms of Lizzie Clachan’s design, the similarity between the two is evident at every turn. Sylvestra Le Touzel even doubles up as head nun and headteacher Miss Mackay. Using the bare minimum required to tell this story, Findlay highlights the play’s undertones of religion and austerity.
There are excellent performances from the whole ensemble, but particular credit has to be given to Lia Williams who is riveting as Jean Brodie. She commands the stage with magnetism, while flawlessly capturing the teacher’s underlying insecurity. Meanwhile, Morison is utterly believable as Sandy, the astute observer and impressionable schoolchild.
Masterfully directed and impeccably acted, this production ticks every box. Harrower’s adaptation is perfectly pitched for both existing fans of Spark’s novel, and those who are new to her work. I might even go to see it a second time – if I can get a ticket!
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is at the Donmar Warehouse until 28th July 2018.