The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ***

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a very good story that is an excellent star-vehicle for a brilliant actress.  Set in an all-girls school in Edinburgh during the 1930s, it tells the story of a passionate teacher who devotes herself to the education of her students in unconventional ways and theories.

And let’s be clear, it does not matter how good the director, designers or the rest of the cast are; all productions of Brodie hinge on its lead actress.  The role of Brodie also has an infamous trap: Maggie Smith played her in the film, and she gave arguably one of the greatest performances every captured on film.

Here, we are given an excellent turn by Anna Francolini who, thankfully, gives her own performance, one that is neither a copy nor a response to Smith’s.  It’s easy to see why students envy, men desire and worship and management hate her so much.  It is a tricky role, one where any actress is asked to say and think things that are, shall we say, rather difficult and plainly wrong.  Francolini’s Brodie never comes across as ignorant, simply misguided.

As for the rest of the cast, there are some rather good performances.  I rather liked Lesley Nicol’s Miss Mackay, Brodie’s nemesis, and Jamie Newall’s Gordon Lowther, a role that usually comes across as pathetic but here is rather sympathetic.  Dugald Bruce Lockhart, as artist Teddy Lloyd, and Brodie’s ‘crème-de-la-crème’, played by Nicola Jo Cully, Amy Lennox, Natalie McConnon and Anneika Rose, are all rather hit-and-miss (though much more ‘hit’).  However, I was rather impressed by the ensemble of local girls who play students with good energy and focus.

As for the production, it is mostly effective.  Jay Presson Allan’s script has been edited, making the action much sharper than it was originally and, thankfully, exorcising the needless Reporter/Interviewee bookends to each act.  Director Laurie Sansom has managed to make a rather good-looking production, with much of the pacing and staging feeling sharp.

However, I must sternly object to the way the ending has been handled.  What should be a heartbreaking showdown between mentor and mentee has been so diluted that it feels rather impotent, making the production, which has up until that point been full of passion, end on a faint and forgettable whimper.

Because of this, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie feels like an emotional shell, a great build-up to an echo of an ending that leaves one in want rather than enthralled.  It’s a shame that the final few minutes should make the previous two hours feel almost worthless.

Playing at the Assembly Hall at 12.00 until August 31.

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