The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Murial Spark, adapted by Jay Presson Allan

Royal and Derngate Production

Royal Theatre, Northampton

(2008)

Review by John Johnson

It is a revival of sorts at The Royal and Derngate in Northampton, as Miss Jean Brodie and her class invite you into their world of art, beauty and fascism.

Certainly, Laurie Sansom has created that sense that we are witnessing the private life of a private girl's school, helped by a cleverly laid out set, chalked onto a blackboard background.

The design, by Neil Irish is simple but very effective and is complemented by Chris Davey's lighting, which sets mood and allows the audience to see Miss Brodie's slides, or Teddy Lloyds' passionate paintings.

The play itself has a variable script, in this adaptation by Jay Presson Allan. In the first act, especially, it is sharp and witty. The second half, though, seemed to drag a little and there was a sense of repetition in the narrative.

The stronger moments were centered on Miss Brodie, always in her prime, and superbly brought to life by Anna Francolini. The character had all the swagger and confidence that you would expect with this role and it was difficult not to be inspired, despite her love of dictators.

Francolini was supported by Jodie Taibi, whose dark, underplayed Sandy created a fine balance to the more outspoken teacher. Taibi managed to drift into the background, to be invisible until her time came to take centre stage.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie did have many strengths: the Madrigalis Choir from Northampton School for Girls is just one example of the quality at the heart of the performance.

Yet, there were moments when the play did not reach the heights that perhaps it might have. The transitions between scenes were disappointing, especially with Georgina Lamb as movement director. Lamb is an associate of Frantic Assembly, but the opportunities for more developed movement were not exploited as much as I would have liked.

This may be one to recommend to those 'Miss Brodie' followers, as the performance by its lead protagonist is well worth seeing. Yet, it did not set the house on fire and for that, reason leaves me feeling quite undecided.

"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" plays at the Royal, Northampton until Saturday October 4th 2008.